- Framework for discussion
The class agreed that, while Universal Basic Income (UBI) could be analysed from a social welfare perspective, it could also be viewed as a reform of income tax. The approach adopted by the Economics Commission of the Communist Party in their report From Each According to Their Means[i] would then be relevant:
“The [objective is] not to look for a set of tax policies that would reform capitalism in Britain. Capitalism is a system of exploitation that creates crisis, inequality, corruption, environmental degradation and war. It cannot be reformed, only replaced. Nor [is] it to consider how government expenditure under socialism should be paid for. This can only be carried out democratically when the time comes. [The objective] is to take a detailed look at the present British tax system as a whole and to recommend how to change it – recommendations around which progressive forces, including trade unions, could unite.”
This report looked at the UK tax system as a whole and examined the interaction of various taxes and potential taxes, including Land Value Tax, Wealth Tax and a Financial Transaction (Tobin) Tax. It did not consider UBI, but subsequent expressions of interest and support on the Left now made this timely.
- What is UBI?
The class accepted the definition of UBI as the replacement of all or most existing state benefits with a single payment made unconditionally to all citizens (or perhaps residents). According to John Kay[ii] its purpose is
- Entitlement of everyone to a ‘minimum’ income, however defined.
- a solution to the problem of accelerating automation and the growth of casualization
- simplification of the welfare system
Scepticism was however expressed in the class about the support for UBI from the Right. Their purpose was to reduce the cost both of administering welfare support and programme cost itself. The class also rejected the possibility of replacing all or most existing benefits with a single payment. Specific needs could not be met with a universal benefit. To each according to the needs remained the goal, albeit one that could only be achieved under communism.
On the question of entitlement, the class favoured the Marxist approach of historical materialism to one based on inherent human rights. The ownership of capital does not, for example, and contrary to EU law, confer any moral entitlement.
The class considered Carol Wilcox’s argument [iii] that the prospect of decreasing demand for labour though automation (‘robotisation’) was over-done (‘hysterical’). It was agreed that the new wave of replacing white collar jobs (and blue collar drivers) with computers may not sound the death knell of capitalism, but the strategy of increased commodification (e.g. education, health) and the opening up of new profitable activities (biotechnology?), could not indefinitely postpone this was collapse.
- Is UBI something around which the labour movement could unite?
The iniquity of Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was discussed. The class agreed that it had to be replaced and that UBI could have a role in this replacement, but only if it were subject to or was part of a progressive income tax and no benefit accrued to high income earners. It would then be part of a progressive income tax with negative rates for those on low incomes. This would not, however, remove the need for monetary support for social needs, but it could be something around which the labour movement and progressive forces could unite.
[i] From Each According to Their Means, Communist Party of Britain, 2014
[ii] The Basics of Basic Income, Intereconomics, John Kay 2017
[iii] Carol Wilcox, Morning Star article 16 March 2017