In Brief

Could universal basic services stop ‘rise of robots’?

Experts at UCL say free services ‘more effective and politically attainable’ that redistributive payments

Forget the Universal Basic Income (UBI), the best way to deal with the loss of jobs caused by the rise of robots and artificial intelligence could be the introduction of ‘universal basic services’.

Researchers at University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity have outlined a radical proposal to counter the loss of millions of jobs brought about by technological change.

 It includes building more than 1.5 million new homes to provide rent-free accommodation to those most in need, supplying one third of all meals to the estimated 2.2 million households living on the breadline - and providing free travel, internet and telephone access for all.

The proposal, dubbed ‘universal basic services’, has been put forward as a more achievable, more desirable and more politically attainable alternative to UBI, which guarantees everyone a set income regardless of their social or financial situation.

Speaking to The Independent, the report’s authors argued that “instead of attempting to alleviate poverty through redistributive payments and minimum wages, the state should instead provide everyone with the services they need to feel secure in society”. 

They argue that where UBI would cost £250bn per year, or 13% of the UK’s entire GDP, widening the social safety net through more comprehensive services would cost a mere £42bn, which could be funded by lowering the personal tax allowance.

One person who welcomed the proposals was Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a long-time supporter of UBI. Speaking at the report launch, McDonnell said rapid technological changes present a “profound challenge” for the economy and society. He added: “This report offers bold new thinking on how we can overcome those challenges and create an economy that is radically fairer and offers opportunities for all.”

The proposal follows recent analysis by McKinsey which estimated almost half the world’s jobs could be automated by existing technology.

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