I believe that a universal basic income, also known as a citizens' income, is an idea that is exactly right for our times; particularly in mature economies where the increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence will mean that ordinary, low-skilled work becomes increasingly hard to obtain. It is a way to help ensure that the wealth created by technological advances is distributed throughout society, rather than concentrated in the hands of the corporations that deploy them.
A world where machines do all the tedious work, leaving people free to move mankind forward, used to be the stuff of science fiction. But it's rapidly becoming mainstream. It's an idea that has already been embraced by the Green Party, here, and now looks to be something that Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are set to examine seriously. It featured in McDonnell's speech to Labour Conference today.
As co-incidence would have it, it is also a policy that featured in Elkarrekin Podemos' policy programme in the Basque Parliamentary election. I found it interesting that they believe it can be introduced at Basque level, rather than at a Spanish level. It would be refreshing to see the SNP or Plaid Cymru consider it, although I suspect it might be too ambitious for either.
However, that's not the point of this post. The reason I'm writing is because I've discovered an organization called the Basic Income Earth Network, whose website is here. It's helpful, because it shows how the idea is gaining ground across the world. One particular article that caught my attention was about a Europe-wide poll conducted by Dalia Research in Berlin, which found that 64% of people in Europe were in favour of Basic Income and, perhaps even more interestingly, that people who were more aware of what Basic Income is tend to be more in favour of it. The full article is here, but here are some graphics from it.
Nor is it a subject in which there is any big difference between the countries of the UK and other countries in Europe. Support in the UK is at 62%.
So next time you read in the media that the likes of the Greens and the current Labour leadership are "hard-left" and "unelectable", it might be worth reminding ourselves that some of the ideas they're putting forward are very much in the mainstream of the direction in which Europe is moving.