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  • Author or Editor: Matthew Thomas Johnson x
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Background:

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.

Methods:

We review UBI trial design and findings in comparison with social gradient in health literature and biopsychosocial theory to identify knowledge gaps.

Findings:

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.

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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.

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