Receiving free cash from the government when nothing is expected in return might sound like a utopian dream. But it could soon be a reality for some in the U.K., where plans for a universal basic income trial have just been published.
Thirty people in the U.K. could soon receive £1,600 ($1,983) each month if the trial by independent think tank Autonomy secures funding. The basic income payments are estimated to cost £1.15 million through the duration of the two-year project.
During this time, researchers would assess the impact of the UBI cash on the lives of participants. A separate group who won’t be receiving the money each month will be monitored through one on one interviews, focus groups and questionnaires to understand the difference in their experiences.
The trial is two years in the making. Dialogue with local communities during that time found strong support for UBI and informed how the trial was planned.
It focuses on two areas in the U.K., one in East Finchley in the capital of London, which is often associated with a higher cost of living, and one in central Jarrow in the northeast of the country.
Local citizens would be able to put themselves forward to take part in the trial and participant selection would be random. Autonomy has said they would work to ensure the trial group is representative, however.
The UBI debate
Whilst there are different forms of UBI, most proposals would see everyone receive the same amount of money regardless of their wealth or employment status and with no conditions attached.
The concept has long been discussed in countries around the world as a way to take pressure off social security systems and alleviate poverty. This has been especially pertinent since the Covid-19 pandemic and associated cost of living pressures that are still impacting people around the world.
“All the evidence shows that it would directly alleviate poverty and boost millions of people’s wellbeing,” said Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy.
Stronge believes changes to the world we live in could also be a key driver in the adoption of UBI.
“With the decades ahead set to be full of economic shocks due to climate change and new forms of automation, basic income is going to be a crucial part of securing livelihoods in the future,” he said.
A UBI could even impact the way people feel about work, some research suggests. In 2022, 19% of Americans said it would ease their frustrations with their jobs.
In the U.S., the concept gained traction after former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who is now co-chair of the Forward Party, suggested giving every American $1,000 a month. Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s richest person Elon Musk and British billionaire Richard Branson have also spoken out in favor of UBI.
Critics, however, say UBI would be too costly and therefore unsustainable or that government money can be spent more efficiently through other social support measures, which can also be more targeted.
Some have also expressed concerns that UBI could take over from other benefits and support programs and lead to them being wiped out.
Declining productivity is also a worry, as some believe people would not have the motivation to work if they received no-strings-attached cash.
While some UBI trials have had promising results that appeared to improve people’s lives and wellbeing, other research and data has been mixed. Should Autonomy’s trial in the U.K. go ahead as planned, the think tank says it hopes to develop proof of concept and build a political case for UBI.