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Emergency Universal Basic Income: Economists propose radical plan in response to coronavirus shutdown

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Members of UBI Lab at S1 Artspace last year.

A group of researchers and activists have released a proposal for an emergency Universal Basic Income (UBI) designed to mitigate the economic impact of coronavirus.

The first stage of the plan, which has been designed by members of the UBI Lab network, would see every working age adult given £500 per month during the current shutdown of bars and restaurants.

This would be in addition to Statutory Sick Pay and means-tested benefits like Universal Credit, and would be designed to give economic security to self-employed and gig economy workers.

Because an emergency UBI is universal it fills in these gaps and makes sure everyone is protected

The second stage would see every working-age adult receive £1,000 a month for two months after the end of the shutdown. This is designed to act as a boost to demand as businesses reopen.

The proposal has been designed in response to the unprecedented measures announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which have faced criticism for only protecting waged employees.

"While wage subsidies are very welcome, they only cover employees and miss out significant sections of the population, including 5m self-employed workers," said Dr Mark Bryan of the University of Sheffield, who co-authored the new proposal.

"Because an emergency UBI is universal it fills in these gaps and makes sure everyone is protected. Our emergency UBI is designed to last five months in total, covering the lockdown and then the start of the recovery afterwards, although the timing could be changed according to economic circumstances."

The plan would also see a smaller income given to children - £200 per month per child in the first stage and £500 in the second. This would be paid to every household with children, like child benefit.

"The UBI is lower for the first three months for two reasons," Bryan explained to Now Then.

Injecting too much money into the economy would just lead to higher prices or empty shelves

"First, many households will be receiving money from the wage subsidy scheme during this time. Second, this is the period when the economic lockdown will be most severe with many businesses closed, restricting the amount of goods and services on the market."

He continued: "Injecting too much money into the economy would just lead to higher prices or empty shelves - instead the priority is to ensure that households can afford the essentials by providing a basic income for all."

According to Bryan, the £1,000 per adult in the second stage would provide the "extra demand" that businesses need to reopen, and would also maintain support for employees as they transition back into work.

The UBI Lab network have sent their proposal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other ministers in the Treasury.

UBI Lab is a project supported in part by Opus Independents, who also publish Now Then and co-ordinate the Festival of Debate.

Sam Gregory

Read the full proposal from UBI Lab. You can also sign the Parliamentary petition calling for an emergency Universal Basic Income.

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