There is a common misconception that a universal basic income (UBI) encourages people to do nothing. We believe it allows people to do anything.

A basic income is just that, basic. It is supposed to give everyone some financial security so they are never hungry or without clothes. But the vast majority of people want more in life and will still have to engage in some sort of paid work to get it.

On a more fundamental level, we all know we work for a lot of reasons so the idea that just giving people a bit of money would remove their incentive to do anything seems counterintuitive.

The data bears this out. A 2016 Harvard/MIT study of cash transfer programmes around the world found “no systematic evidence of the cash transfer programs on either the propensity to work or the overall number of hours worked, for either men or women”.

More recently, a UBI experiment in Finland in 2017-18 found individuals involved worked on average more than those in the control group. But there is evidence closer to home too. The pandemic furlough programme has provided a real-life mass experiment of what happens when people are given money and not required to do anything in return.

The National Wales: Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Jane Dodds.Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Jane Dodds.

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There is no academic data yet, but anecdotally it appears people didn’t just sit around watching TV and doing nothing (although there was probably plenty of that too). They engaged in exercise, self-improvement and plenty of voluntary work. That is, they engaged in the sorts of things that are bound to help them and their communities prosper.

In fact, UBI is not just about any work, it is about good work. Income insecurity has become endemic for large parts of the population because changes in the labour market have made employment more precarious. People have to accept any work conditions if the alternative is destitution. That is no choice at all. Basic income offers people a floor of economic security that no one can take away from them and will always ensure basic survival.

If you have a basic income you can refuse badly-paid, demeaning or dangerous work because you know there is a small amount to fall back on. Ultimately good work provides enough economic security to participate equally in society and basic income will help achieve that.

With a basic income you can be more entrepreneurial and take risks because you know you will not starve. In Wales, 95% of businesses employ fewer than 10 people and account for about 50% of all employment. So post-pandemic, small business creation is going to be the motor of the economy.

A basic income will also allow people the chance to constantly re-skill in the face of a labour market that is changing very rapidly.

UBI is about good work - being able to create jobs, refuse bad jobs, be more prepared for new jobs. And, really crucially, it is also about recognising the value of huge amounts of very important work that currently goes unrecognised - mothers who bring up their children, people who care for elderly or disabled relatives and friends; people who do millions of hours of voluntary work in their communities. That is real work that we all rely on and benefit from. A basic income will start to recognise and reward the value of all this work.

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