top of page

Universal basic income (UBI)

A universal basic income (UBI) is an unconditional cash payment given at regular intervals by the government to all residents, regardless of their earnings or employment status.

Pilot UBI or more limited basic income programs that give a basic income to a smaller group of people instead of an entire population have taken place or are ongoing in Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Namibia, Spain, and The Netherlands as of Oct. 20, 2020 In the United States, the Alaska Permanent Fund (AFP), created in 1976, is funded by oil revenues. AFP provides dividends to permanent residents of the state. The amount varies each year based on the stock market and other factors, and has ranged from $331.29 (1984) to $2,072 (2015). The payout for 2020 was $992.00, the smallest check received since 2013. UBI has been in American news mostly thanks to the 2020 presidential campaign of Andrew Yang whose continued promotion of a UBI resulted in the formation of a nonprofit, Humanity Forward.

Pro 1 Universal Basic Income (UBI) reduces poverty and income inequality, and improves physical and mental health. Scott Santens, Founding Member of the Economic Security Project, says that a UBI set at $1,000 per adult per month and $300 per child per month would eradicate US poverty entirely. The poverty level in Brazil has fallen to the lowest level in 40 years after $100 a month has been distributed to about 25% of the population beginning in Mar. 2020. Namibia’s UBI program, the Basic Income Grant (trialled in 2007-2012), reduced household poverty rates from 76% of residents before the trial started to 37% after one year. Child malnutrition rates also fell from 42% to 17% in six months. Participants in India’s UBI trial (2013-2014) said that UBIs helped improve their health by enabling them to afford medicine, improve sanitation, gain access to clean water, eat more regularly, and reduce their anxiety levels.

Mincome, a trial UBI in Manitoba, Canada, in the mid-1970s, found that hospitalizations for accidents, injuries, and mental health diagnoses declined during the trial. Kenya’s ongoing UBI trial has reportedly led to increased happiness and life satisfaction, and to reduced stress and depression. Matthew Smith, PhD, Professor in Health History at the University of Strathclyde, stated that UBI could improve a range of mental health concerns and stressful situations proven to deteriorate mental health: “Recent research has linked the stress of poverty with inflammation in the brain… UBI could be set at a level to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met.

This would reduce much of the stress faced by the working poor or families on benefits… UBI would also help people, usually women and children, to leave abusive relationships. Domestic abuse occurs more often in poorer households, where victims lack the financial means to escape. Similarly, UBI might prevent the negative childhood experiences believed to lead to mental illness and other problems later in life. These include experiencing violence or abuse, or having parents with mental health, substance abuse and legal problems. Behind these problems are often poverty, inequality and social isolation.”

Pro 2 UBI leads to positive job growth and lower school dropout rates. The guarantee of UBI protects people from sluggish wage growth, low wages, and the lack of job security caused by the effects of the growing gig economy such as Uber/Lyft driving and short-term contracts, as well as increased automation in the workplace. Researchers from the Roosevelt Institute created three models for US implementation of UBI and found that under all scenarios, UBI would grow the economy by increasing output, employment, prices, and wages. Since implementation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, the increased purchasing power of UBI recipients has resulted in 10,000 additional jobs for the state. UBI would also give employees the financial security to leave a bad job, or wait until the good job comes along to (re)join the job market. People won’t have to take an awful job just to pay the bills. UBI also enables people to stay in school longer and participate in training to improve skills or learn a trade. Uganda’s UBI trial, the Youth Opportunities Program, enabled participants to invest in skills training as well as tools and materials, resulting in an increase of business assets by 57%, work hours by 17%, and earnings by 38%. The Canadian Mincome trial in the 1970’s found that participants of the trial were more likely to complete high school than counterparts not involved in the trial. The Basic Income Grant trial in Namibia (2007-2012) enabled parents to afford school fees, buy school uniforms, and encourage attendance. As a result, school dropout rates fell from almost 40% in Nov. 2007 to 5% in June 2008 to almost 0% in Nov. 2008.

Pro 3 UBI guarantees income for non-working parents and caregivers, thus empowering important traditionally unpaid roles, especially for women. Guy Standing, PhD, Professor of Development Studies at the University of London (UK), says UBI makes all forms of work, including childcare and eldercare, “equally deserving” of payment. In another article, Standing noted “Almost definitionally, a properly designed basic income system will reduce gender-based inequality, because on average the payment will represent a higher share of women’s income.” A UBI also allows working parents to reduce their working hours in order to spend more time with their children or help with household chores.

Reviewing the UBI trial in India (2013-2014), SEWA Bharat (an organization related to women’s employment) and UNICEF (a children’s rights organization) concluded that “women’s empowerment was one of the more important outcomes of this experiment,” noting that women receiving a UBI participated more in household decision making, and benefited from improved access to food, healthcare, and education.

The Basic Income Grant Coalition trial UBI in Namibia (2007-2012) found that UBI “reduced the dependency of women on men for their survival” and reduced the pressure to engage in transactional sex.

Mincome, the Canadian UBI trial in the mid-1970s, found that emergency room visits as a result of domestic violence reduced during the period of the trial, possibly because of the reduction in income-inequality between women and men.


bottom of page