Populus research on behalf of the Royal Society for Arts Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has found that the idea of a Basic Income – a regular payment made by government to citizens – is one that the public as a whole is open to, not least due to a context of rising economic uncertainty. By 41% to 17% who oppose, a plurality of respondents support the idea of a Basic Income.
Tellingly, 40% of people would support local Basic Income experiments in their area (with 15% opposed). This comes amid previous Populus research, which finds that Brexit and new technology are widely viewed as threats to jobs, with 61% of people viewing one or the other of these factors as the greatest threat to jobs over the next 10-15 years.
A key principle espoused by proponents of the Basic Income is that automation increases the need for such a measure as greater security is needed in the jobs market. Consistent with this, the public agrees that a Universal Basic Income would provide better security than the status quo by more than three to one (45% to 13%). Moreover, only 19% agree with the statement “the current system is working, so we do not need to experiment with Basic Income”, while 44% disagree.
However, despite these positive findings for proponents of a Basic Income, the public remains unconvinced regarding affordability, with 38% worrying this measure is “unaffordable”. The most popular funding option for a Basic Income is raising progressive tax so the rich pay more into the scheme than they get out (39% would support this).
Populus also explored the public’s attitudes towards the moral imperatives behind a welfare system. In addition to the finding below, that protecting the most vulnerable in society is by far the most important moral principle for a welfare system in the eyes of the public, Populus found that 49% think a Basic Income would “reduce the stigma associated with receiving benefits” with 16% disagreeing.
Responding to these findings, Anthony Painter, Director of the RSA’s Action and Research Centre, said:
“The Universal Credit experiment is failing on its own terms, while the wider welfare state is riddled with complexities and underpinned by draconian sanctions.
“By contrast, our poll shows that in an era of widespread economic insecurity, policy-makers have the public’s support to start exploring innovative alternatives to today’s failing and unpopular welfare system.
“Basic Income is no magic bullet, but with HM Opposition exploring the idea and the Scottish Government looking to pilot it with four Scottish councils, Basic Income is increasingly seen as one plausible response to modern economic insecurity.”
Charlie Young, report author and RSA Associate, added:
“As Basic Income schemes are tested and designed, we need to give thought to how they meet peoples’ needs and natural concerns. This poll shows there’s net support for Basic Income in principle, and that there’s an appetite for experimentation.
“There are clear lessons for Basic Income advocates and supporters, including around building support from those who don’t support the welfare status-quo, as well as understanding that relying very heavily on increasing basic rates of tax is something people are unlikely to get behind. People favour more progressive ways of funding a Basic Income.
“As our report shows, there are lots of examples of Basic Income and Basic Income-type models around the world to consider as the idea gathers pace locally and globally. Figuring out which one might work best is an important part of moving further down this road.”
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Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,070 British adults aged 18+ between 27th and 29th July 2018. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of adults in the UK. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.populus.co.uk