In the context of the UK Government’s ‘prevention agenda’, Laura Webber and colleagues have called for a ‘health in all policies’ approach. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a system of cash transfers to citizens. Recent research suggests it could significantly benefit population health, including via reducing stress. However, a Finnish trial of a policy with similarities to UBI has influenced debate. This was reported as a failure due to a policy objective of reducing unemployment, despite demonstrating significant benefits to well-being.
Aims and objectives:
In this piece, we seek to advance the debate about the cost-benefit of UBI by identifying knowledge gaps and proposing a means of designing effective trials.
We review UBI trial design and findings in comparison with social gradient in health literature and biopsychosocial theory to identify knowledge gaps.
We highlight a need to refocus UBI trials on improved health, including via reduced stress, to provide policy makers the means of producing accurate cost-benefit analysis. Previous trials have either not reflected likely UBI policy or failed to measure impacts that enable accurate analysis. We contend that interdisciplinary work is required to establish trials that observe factors known to drive the social health gradient. Finally, we argue that statistical modelling is needed to extrapolate shorter-term findings to long-term population-level outcomes.
Discussion and conclusions:
Resource allocation by Government and/or major funders is required to produce evidence that enables accurate analysis of UBI. Such trials would provide a platform for interdisciplinary work resulting in joined-up evidence and policy.
Co-production has emerged as one of the key concepts in understanding knowledge-policy interactions and is associated with involvement, for example, of users of public services in their design and delivery. At a time of permacrisis, the need for transformative evidence-based policymaking is urgent and great. This is particularly important in highly distressed ‘left-behind’ communities targeted by the UK Government for Levelling Up, which constitutes an attempt to improve the infrastructural, economic, social and health outcomes of less affluent parts of the UK. Often, policymakers regard the transformative policies capable of addressing these crises as beyond the ‘Overton Window’, which describes a range of policies in the political centre that are acceptable to the public (). This window of opportunity can shift to encompass different policies, but movement is slow and policymakers generally believe that significant change lies outside. In this article, we build on recent debates in Evidence & Policy on co-production by outlining an embryonic approach to overcoming this Overton Window-based roadblock in evidence-based policymaking: adversarial co-production, which involves working with opponents of evidence-based policy to develop means of persuading potential beneficiaries to support introduction. This emerging approach has been deployed in examination of public preferences with regard to welfare reform, but can be applied to a wide range of policy areas. We outline briefly the history of co-production, before setting out the process by which adversarial co-production was developed. We then describe the impact of adversarial co-production on public preferences on basic income (BI). This enables us to set out challenges and opportunities for those with an interest in addressing our crises, serving to stimulate genuine debate on longstanding assumptions about the limits of evidence-based policy and public opinion.
Critics of Universal Basic Income (UBI) have claimed that it would be either unaffordable or inadequate. This discussion paper tests this claim by examining the distributional impacts of three UBI schemes broadly designed to provide pathways to attainment of the Minimum Income Standard (MIS). We use microsimulation of data from the Family Resources Survey to outline the static distributional impacts and costs of the schemes. Our key finding is that even the fiscally neutral starter scheme would reduce child poverty to the lowest level achieved since 1961 and achieve more than the anti-poverty interventions of the New Labour Governments from 2000. The more generous schemes would make further inroads into the UK’s high levels of poverty and inequality, but at greater cost. We conclude by assessing fiscal strategies to reduce the up-front deficit of higher schemes, providing a more positive assessment of affordability and impact than critics have assumed.