London Lectures

A Universal Basic Income

Catherine Rowett argues for universal basic income, reflects upon the answers offered by the ancient world and explores the practical and economic questions that arise.

Part of the London Lectures series, A Philosophers’ Manifesto.

In this talk, Catherine Rowett argues for universal basic income. She says:

A universal basic income is an unconditional allowance that is paid out in cash to everyone in a society, out of the public purse, like a universal tax-free allowance, and regardless of income (in the way that, for instance, child benefit is paid). The aim is to ensure that every person has a guaranteed secure income, sufficient to cover their basic living costs, no matter what may befall, before they add whatever earnings or private pension they are able to accumulate, and before adding any special-needs-based benefits for those with disabilities etc.

There have been several pilot schemes, and the idea is currently much talked of as a simple and effective solution during the COVID-19 crisis period, but although some countries are said to be doing something like it, none is doing the real thing as a permanent national policy. It’s been Green Party policy for years. But why? I shall raise and explore the many interesting philosophical questions that arise, about notions of fairness, entitlement, desert, stigma and sanctions, and the value of unpaid work, the proper ambitions of a good society, and our preconceptions about whether leisure (time for recreation and free creativity) or jobs (working to give the proceeds of our labour and the luxury of free time to someone else!) are the thing we should prize above all for free citizens. I shall ask about the answers offered by the ancient world to some of these questions. And then there are the practical and economic questions, including the intriguing possibility that it might actually increase economic activity and enterprise, and substantially reduce mental health costs, social care costs and the bill for NHS drugs—and how, if at all, it might contribute to a solution to the climate crisis.

  • Speaker

    Catherine Rowett is Professor of Philosophy, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies at the University of East Anglia. In May 2019 she was elected to the European Parliament as the Green Party MEP for the East of England, serving until the UK left the EU in January 2020. She now divides her time between philosophy (research and a little teaching) and freelance political work.