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Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a term used to describe a number of different proposals where the state would provide income for all citizens, without any conditions attached, and regardless of their other resources. The idea has a long history and has attracted supporters from across the political spectrum at various times.

The most common definition of a UBI scheme is a scheme where universal, unconditional payments provide people with just enough money to live on. There are, however, other kinds of unconditional cash payments that use similar language.

UBI has attracted interest in recent years, and particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, with advocates arguing it would be an effective, simple way of providing comprehensive support without excluding any groups.

A petition, entitled Implement Universal Basic Income to give home & food security through Covid-19 was considered in an oral evidence session of the UK Parliament Petitions Committee on 17 September 2020. In response to the petition, the UK Government said a UBI “does not target help to those who need it most”, stressing additional support provided during the coronavirus outbreak, such as the Job Retention Scheme, changes to Statutory Sick Pay and Universal Credit.

The Government has been joined by other critics such as the Work and Pensions Committee, who have dismissed the idea of a UBI on the grounds that it does not target support at those who most need it, has high costs, and risks diverting resources from other benefits and services.

Recent UK Labour Party leaderships have been more open to ideas espoused by UBI advocates than the Conservatives, but have stopped short of promising to introduce a basic income.

Administrations in Scotland and Wales have shown more interest in exploring basic income proposals. In 2018, the Scottish Government put £250,000 towards a feasibility study of a “Citizens’ Basic Income” (CBI), in partnership with four Scottish local authorities. A final report was published by Basic Income Scotland in June 2020. The Welsh Government has announced a pilot, “basic income for care leavers”, providing unconditional cash payments of £1,600 per month to over 500 young people for 2 years from their 18th birthdays.

The Commons Library previously published a debate briefing on Universal Basic Income in October 2020. 

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