In 2017, University College London (UCL) released their report Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services. The document argued that UK economic and social cohesion were being eroded due to the continuing failure to deliver a decent quality of life for all.
With over four million* people in Britain unable to put food on their tables and a growing lack of opportunity in many communities, UCL reported that this was amplifying an increasingly bleak outlook across the country. The financial crisis in 2008 clearly demonstrated that we were not 'all in this together' and with growing levels of economic inequality, increased social barriers and a weakening of social cohesion the logical result would be political instability.
UBS argues for services, universally available, to provide housing and food security, transport, care, education and access to digital information thereby providing every member of society with the material safety required to find employment and contribute to their community - an essential component of a healthy, democratic society.
We already have examples of UBS here in the UK, NHS and education, but further services could be rolled out to meet the other fundamental needs of housing, transport, childcare, adult social care and access to digital information based on models currently in use abroad - housing co-ops in Copenhagen, universal childcare in Norway, free buses in Tallin, Estonia and so on.
Everyone, at some point, will use at least one public service but some of the most vulnerable people in society rely on public services all of the time. For those on lower incomes and dependent on key services, market-based service provision exposes the cruelty of the system - when forced to pay, people are driven deeper into poverty, become dependent on charity or simply ‘do without‘.
In November 2018 Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, reported that authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies, essentially arguing that the UK's social safety net had been removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ideology. With more than a decade of austerity and several financial crises leading to the ‘hollowing out’ of our public services, the current cost of living crisis is adding weight to calls for UBS and the rebuilding of social solidarity through renewed investment to reconstruct our public services.
Read The case for Universal Basic Services here
Of course, the proposal has its critics, Guy Standing from OpenDemocracy, put forward a compelling critique of UBS, citing at least eight areas in which UBS could be called into question, including the argument that the term ‘universal‘ is misleading (read the full article here).
No matter your opinion, the time has come for intelligent and thoughtful debate on the topic!