RSA Basic Income: What’s in it for People with Disabilities?

By Gareth John

The Transhumanist Party UK recently welcomed a report by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) with regard the argument for a Universal Basic Income in the UK.

First things first: I myself firmly support the principle of Basic Income and the RSA publication.

However, I am concerned that little mention has been made of how this would work for people with disabilities that preclude them from working.

Potato balancing

There are many references in the report to support for Carers and ‘care’ that I’ve taken the liberty to list here:

  • A Basic Income would help people care for their relatives, friends and neighbours without having to account for their actions to the state.
  • Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person.
  • It mitigates or eliminates losses that particular groups might experience.
  • Carers currently receive financial support but it is a very bureaucratic system. These allowances are means-tested and rules bound (e.g. you have to care for at least 35 hours per week in order to receive it). For this reason, the benefit is under-claimed by almost £1bn per annum. Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person. These needs will increase over coming decades so greater flexibility will be necessary. Basic Income is very helpful in this regard.
  • It also allows parents, carers, and learners to have a basic level of security to pursue their lives without interference.
  • Expressed in the terms of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory, the UK’s current needs-based system contains elements of care, reciprocal altruism, loyalty (to expressed community virtue), authority and sanctity.

The report does mention disability; however, aside from exempting it from the current proposals, it makes no reference as to how/what the implementation of Basic Income would mean for people with disabilities who are unable to work.Disabilities

Would things remain as they are? How would that reconcile itself with the broader proposals outlined here?

For reference, I’ve included the mentions made in the RSA report specifically about disability here:

  • Our proposal is based on the Citizen’s Income Trust 2012–13 scheme with some important fiscal adaptations. Housing and disability are not included in the model as a consequence.
  • From removing benefits, tax reliefs and allowances (excluding those relating to disability and housing), the Citizen’s Income Trust estimates total savings of £272bn.
  • As with the Citizen’s Income Trust47 proposal, the RSA Basic Income model outlined above excludes any reform of housing or council tax benefits (and, for the record, disability payments).

My concern is that ‘excluding’ disability payments from Basic Income will make for a more bureaucratic system rather than lessen it.

The current disability benefits in the UK include Incapacity Benefit (being phased out), Employment & Support Allowance which includes a contribution-based benefit, an income-based benefit, a work-related activity group where people with disabilities who ‘may’ be capable of work are mentored (some would say coerced) to ease the transition back into work together with the support group where the disability is regarded as so severe as to mean that this person is not fit for work and is unlikely to be for the foreseeable future. I myself am currently in this group. The report removes those of us with disabilities from the general conversation by glossing over what would happen to us and how we could benefit from the Basic Income.

This is further exacerbated by the somewhat conservative tone underlying the RSA report that again diminishes the role of people with disabilities in society:

  • This explains a recent increase in interest in the ‘contributory-principle’. In common parlance, this means that as you put more in you should get more out.
  • The demand is not for ‘more for more’ as contributory systems offer. It is for ‘less for less’ — a lower income for less contribution.

If things for people with disabilities are to remain as they are, Basic Income will do little to impact on our lives – even the incentives for Carers to have more flexibility for their caring duties makes little difference for those in need of constant care – and thus the RSA proposal does little to remove the social stigma and coercive nature of the current system.

Far from removing sanctions against those with disabilities, things will stay just as they are, in which case I fail to see how the following comment by the RSA re: Basic Income is any more progressive than where we’re at now:

  • These sanctions have led to demoralisation, deleterious mental health impacts, indebtedness, poverty, learners being removed from vocational courses close to their completion and an expansion of food banks. What began as an exercise in reciprocal altruism – where benefits apply only to those who ‘contribute’ – has become inhumane.

I realise that the report is excluding ‘disability and housing’ in order to put forward the basic tenets of Basic Income without overly-complicating things at this stage. However, as a person with a long-term severe mental health disability which has led to me losing my job and in all likelihood remaining unemployed for the foreseeable future, I have to admit that the report does make me feel marginalised rather than empowered.

Just to be clear – I do support Basic Income and believe it is the best way forward morally and with regard to the massive social changes emerging technologies will bring to the marketplace.

I just wish the RSA had had more to say about how Basic Income will affect people with disabilities rather than excluding them from the proposal, even at this early stage. Things as they are now for people like me also need to change. We’re just not being told how.

Any comments/opinions welcomed.

Gareth JohnAbout the author

Gareth John is a technoprogressive transhumanist fascinated by how people perceive, interpret, respond, and interact in an increasingly media rich world. His interests include ethics and emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, personality types in cyberspace, biotechnology, cognitive science, cultural posthumanism in the humanities and arts. He lives with bipolar disorder. 

2016: the year UBI can enter the political mainstream

2016 is the year that the concept of Universal Basic Income can enter the political mainstream.


Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an important streamlining and simplification of the existing benefits payment systems. But it’s a great deal more than that:

  • It’s a response to the forthcoming era of material abundance and technological unemployment
  • It’s a fundamental change in attitude
  • It states that support for the basic aspects of human life will be provided to all citizens by the overall community free of conditionality
  • It celebrates and enables numerous kinds of creativity and contribution, including throughout the voluntary sector, without requiring that recipients pursue paid employment in order to receive the UBI
  • It removes the disincentives in present welfare systems that discourage people from augmenting their community payments with incremental paid employment
  • It removes the “big brother is watching you” surveillance that treats all recipients of community payments as being suspect of cheating or shirking.

(Picture credit: the underlying photo is by Unsplash contributor Joshua Earle.)

A growing conversation

Transformational ideas such as UBI take time to mature – sometimes a long time. But 2015 saw plenty of evidence of progress in the public discussion about UBI.

In 2016, this momentum is set to grow:

  • Local trials of UBI worldwide are being arranged and progress will be reviewed
  • Key open questions are rising to the fore – questions that Transpolitica will be helping to highlight and suggest answers.

At the end of 2015, Transpolitica consultants worked with members of the Transhumanist Party (UK) to prepare a press release about UBI. An extended version of that press release can be read below. The press release was prompted by the publication in London by the RSA of a comprehensive report released on the subject of UBI.

Further reading

Transhumanist Party (UK) press release – main content

(Published version is here)

Transhumanist Party welcomes RSA support for a Universal Basic Income

Changing technological circumstances accelerate the need for changed social framework

The Transhumanist Party today welcomed the publication of the RSA’s report “Creative citizen, creative state: the principled and pragmatic case for a Universal Basic Income”.

The RSA (the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), which was founded in London in 1754, has the stated mission “to enrich society through ideas and action”. The RSA report into UBI (Universal Basic Income) follows one year of research into the topic, and makes specific proposals for how UBI might be implemented in the UK.

The idea of UBI aligns well with the Transhumanist Party principle of “Personal freedom, social justice”:

All citizens shall have a right to sustenance, clothing, shelter, energy, healthcare, transport, education, and access to information resources. The Party also advocates that all citizens must be able to contribute to society, in their own fashion, without blemish to their dignity or sense of self worth.

According to Transhumanist Party research and analysis, accelerating technological unemployment has the potential – within the next decade – to magnify social inequality, disruption and alienation. People who trained hard for new career opportunities may discover that their employment prospects have been overtaken by increasingly sophisticated robots, AIs, software, or other automation.

Dr Amon Twyman, Party Leader, commented:

A new social contract is needed, involving strong educational and economic support for those who are left with no viable option of ‘earning a living’ due to rapid technological change. A UBI would provide an important part of this new social contract. The RSA’s advocacy of a UBI will help the task of the Transhumanist Party to bring about new political thinking in the UK that champions individual and social creativity.

The Party looks forward to accelerating public discussion of UBI:

  • Designing and supporting local trials of UBI schemes
  • Sharing insight and understanding with groups worldwide who are investigating UBI
  • Building broad support, across the traditional political spectrum, for UBI
  • Mandating that, where possible, overseas foreign aid should be made available to local citizens via direct UBI schemes rather than by government manipulation.

Press release – Supplementary analysis

The following comments provide further analysis, as replies to frequently asked questions.

Q1: Will a UBI remove people’s motivation to contribute positively to society?

Different writers express different intuitions on this question. This is an example where the Transhumanist Party principle of evidence-based policy should be applied, to adjudicate between these different opinions.

The RSA report makes the following points here:

There is evidence from Basic Income pilots in the less-developed world that it spurs entrepreneurship. In developed world pilots, it has been shown to enhance wellbeing through better education and health and these are important foundations for greater creativity. This remains a hypothesis but with enough evidence to warrant further testing.

That is why we advocate a Basic Income pilot on the lines proposed in Netherlands, Finland and Canada. This would involve a whole city or city-region adopting a Basic Income to analyse its impacts over a reasonable period of, say, five years.

If the results were positive then it could be rolled out before the five years is up.

Q2: How can the UK afford all the payments comprising a UBI?

In the medium timescales (several decades), the abundance of goods created by powerful new automation and exponential technology will be more than enough to meet the basic aspirations of every citizen. However, there remains the question of how to transition from the present economic situation to that future sustainable abundance.

The system proposed by the RSA for shorter timescales is essentially tax-neutral: the amount of taxes already collected by the government, redistributed, will basically cover the costs of all proposed payouts. This is because the initial UBI is set at minimal levels, such as £71 per week per adult. Because the scheme is tax-neutral, it is more politically tractable.

As a result of UBI, more people will in due course find work that is personally pleasing and satisfying to them, without having to rush to accept the first available employment. In turn, due to increased work satisfaction, the productivity of the entire economy should rise (in both the voluntary and the paid sectors), allowing society to afford higher rates of UBI payment.

In parallel, there is scope to explore alternative ideas to distribute as “citizens’ dividends” the overall wealth of the nation – wealth derived from national assets such as 5G wireless spectrum auctions, land usage, greenhouse gas emission, and so on. These ideas are explored in books such as “With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough” by Peter Barnes, and “The Public Wealth of Nations: How Management of Public Assets Can Boost or Bust Economic Growth” by  Dag Detter and Stefan Fölster. The combination of citizens’ dividends and the initial UBI can be expected to grow in total over time, eventually resulting in a UAI (Universal Abundant Income) rather than a UBI (Universal Basic Income).