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Universal Basic Income: The moral argument

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Simon Duffy of the Centre for Welfare Reform

Ahead of 'Basic Income: How Do We Get There?' next Saturday at the University of Sheffield, Simon Duffy from the Centre for Welfare Reform looks at the moral argument for a basic income.

There are many arguments for a basic income, from saving the planet to coping with the rise of robotics. But the best argument is the simplest: the moral argument.

The moral argument states that a basic income is the right thing for society to do. You could also think of it as the human rights argument: everyone has a right to enough money to live on.

This may seem extraordinary: "You mean we're just going to give people free money?"

We should give people this basic income regardless of whether we think they're behaving in the best way.

But remember that free healthcare also once seemed an extraordinary idea. "You mean we're just going to give people free healthcare?" Yes, and it's the basic principle of the NHS, one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

The moral argument for a basic income has three parts:

1. We should give people a secure and liveable income because its wrong to let people go hungry, naked or cold. It's generally best to give people money so that they can decide how best to meet their own needs.

2. We should give people this basic income regardless of whether we think they're behaving in the best way. In particular we should give it to people who are working, looking for work, unable to work or not looking for work.

3. We should give this money to everyone, whatever their earnings or wealth. We expect everyone to pay tax on their income, as the community agrees is fair. But we should not place extra burdens on those on the lowest incomes and expect them to pay extra tax just because they're poorer. This is what means-testing benefits is: it's a super-tax on the poor. We should have a tax system that works the same for everyone, not one that targets tax on the poorest.

If you think its right that people have a secure income, have the freedom to decide how to live, and that we shouldn't target tax against the poorest, you should support a basic income.

Tickets for 'Basic Income: How Do We Get There?' are available through Tickets For Good for £6, or free for those unwaged or on a low income.

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Finland, where a Universal Basic Income trial ran from 2017 to 2018. Photo by Thermos.

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