Providing a basic income to all citizens could end hunger and ensure healthy and sustainable diets, experts have said.
The concept, known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), has been touted as transformational for the wellbeing of the nation and the environment by speakers at a recent event, hosted by the UBI Lab Network.
“Given the rising cost of living in the UK, UBI would provide people with financial shelter to buy food and not rely on the increasing network of food banks,” said social policy lecturer at the University of Salford, David Beck.
“We should be shocked that Rhyl (a town in Wales) has more food banks than supermarkets,” he added.
The notion of guaranteeing a minimum income is nothing new, dating back to the 16th century, but it is gaining traction as 7.3 million UK adults struggle to put food on the table in the last month due to the cost‐of‐living crisis.
Speakers also said that UBI could break the stranglehold of a free market economic system built on cheap labour and food.
Beck summarised that ensuring that citizens have a minimum income would allow people to make healthier and more sustainable food choices, rather than buying cheap ultra-processed food that drives poor health and types of farming that is heavily reliant on crops grown in monocultures with chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
“UBI has the potential to reduce government spending, increase tax revenue, improve the economy and the health and wellbeing of citizens,” said lecturer in tax and accounting at the University of Bangor, Sarah Closs‐Davies.
Closs‐Davies said she has calculated that a fully implemented UBI would cost the tax purse £420 billion a year to significantly reduce poverty. This is double the current social welfare budget, but she suggested the government should implement a windfall tax on higher earners and corporations to make up the difference.
She also stressed: “We must not just consider the expenditure but all of the savings, too.”
Critics of UBI say that providing a basic income would deter people from working and it would encourage frivolous spending and irresponsible behaviour.
“These arguments highlight a certain politically driven rationale and assumptions,” responded Closs‐Davies. “I.e., you must work and pay your taxes to deserve benefits.
“This is quite a narrow-minded and monetised approach to how we govern the welfare of citizens and what we think of others,” said Closs‐Davies.
Food studies lecturer at Queen’s University Ontario, Elaine Power, added: “It would allow people to walk away from crappy jobs and not worry about putting food on the table.”
A basic income could also help farmers grow more sustainably, according to Power, who said: “Basic income is a stabilising force for especially new and younger farmers so they can take the time and not rush into decisions that are less sustainable.”
But executive director of the Food Ethics Council, Dan Crossley, stressed it isn’t a panacea: “It [UBI] has the potential to have lots of positive impacts, but it won’t solve everything.
“We need to think about how it fits with other policies and parts of the equation.”
In addition to UBI, rationing food is another idea been forward to address food poverty and unhealthy diets, read more about it here.