UK trials Universal Basic Income

A UK think tank has launched the country’s first universal basic income pilot, citing a coming ‘transition’ period

UK trials Universal Basic Income

UK trials Universal Basic Income

British think tank Autonomy will pay 30 people £1,600 per month for two years while monitoring their mental health

A British think tank announced the UK’s first-ever universal basic income program on Sunday, offering 30 participants £1,600 ($1,990) per month with no strings attached to see how it affects them mentally and physically. 

Autonomy, the group organizing the experiment, promised the recipients of the free money that their anonymity would be preserved. They claim the group will be both randomly selected and “representative.” One group will be drawn from the north London suburb of East Finchley and the other from central Jarrow, in the northeast of England. The think tank also plans to employ a ‘control group’, who will answer the same questionnaires as their well-paid counterparts but without the monthly checks. 

“Our society is going to require some form of basic income in the coming years, given the tumult of climate change, tech disruption and industrial transition that lies ahead,” Autonomy research director Will Stronge said in a statement accompanying the plan’s publication, explaining his organization was trialing the project now “so the ground is well prepared for national implementation.”

“All the evidence shows that [a UBI] would directly alleviate poverty and boost millions of people’s well-being: the potential benefits are just too large to ignore,” he said. 

While it’s unclear how a nationwide scheme would be funded, the think tank suggested the money would come from private philanthropy or local authorities.

While Autonomy’s is the first truly “universal” pilot in the UK in that there are no qualifications for participating, Wales recently began paying £1,600 ($1,990) per month to 500 young people aging out of foster care for two years and Scotland is working on establishing a minimum income guarantee. A campaign is underway in Stroud to launch a UBI scheme there as well. 

“We haven’t seen levels of deprivation and deep poverty across our communities like this in decades,” Emma Kernahan, one of the founders of the Stroud UBI project, told the BBC earlier this year. Government responses to Covid-19 decimated the UK economy, causing the worst market crash in three centuries, and while the economy has largely recovered since then, soaring inflation and skyrocketing energy prices have kept comfortable living out of the reach of many. 

Some critics of UBI argue it takes money away from social services for the truly needy, or incentivizes sloth. Additionally, as news of Autonomy’s project spread on social media, many users expressed doubt that a government-backed UBI would ever come without strings attached, denouncing it as the first step toward communism – or an AI dystopia. 

Investment bank Goldman Sachs recently estimated AI will replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs, with some professions – like the law and administration – losing nearly half their manpower to silicon competitors.