18 July 2016
Luke Graham graduated with a First-Class Honours degree from the Law LL.B programme in July 2016. Luke’s dissertation focused on a comparative evaluation of an ideologically different approach to social security and was approached through the lens of international human rights law. Luke will be commencing an LLM in International Human Rights Law at Lancaster in October 2016. His dissertation was supervised by Dr Amanda Cahill-Ripley.

This dissertation posed two research hypotheses; firstly that a Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme is more compatible with obligations under the ICESCR, pertaining to social security, than the current approach of the United Kingdom (UK) towards fulfilling these obligations; and, secondly, that a UBI is both feasibly and practically implementable within the context of the UK.

Crucial in assessing these hypotheses was an informed understanding of the current approach of the UK to realising the right to social security. The outlook for such an assessment was, therefore, from the very outset rather grim due to the general unwillingness of western, neo-liberally influenced, governments to make policy choices conducive to the realisation of this right. It was established that a failure to realise this right perpetuates the existence of the socially insecure – the precariat – which in turn permeates beyond merely a failure to having one’s right to social security realised due to the wide reaching consequences upon an individual who exists in such a state. These consequences are as a result of the indivisibility and interdependence of Human Rights which has been affirmed by the international community and accepts that, in many instances, an individual may not fully enjoy a right when other rights are not also realised.

This was indicated by the punitive nature of the social welfare system within the UK which aims for full employment, sometimes by the use of welfare sanctions, and seeks to use this as a tool to shift the financial cost of an individual being able to live in social security to the private market and personal responsibility as opposed to the government itself. It was found that such an approach infringes the real freedom, liberty, and dignity of those subject to it and that it also fosters social insecurity. This is because government struggles to attain the goal of full employment and suggests that this approach works counter to the goals pursuant to the right to social security.

The next stage in addressing the first hypothesis was to compare and contrast the nature, and effects, of a UBI as a means of realising the right to social security against the current approach. This posed some difficulties given that such a scheme has never been implemented on a national scale. Despite this a number of studies were considered which analysed the effects of a guaranteed regular income and found these effects to be, on balance, positive.

The oft-cited argument that making social security payments available without conditions would result in individuals choosing to turn their backs on employment was dismissed decisively. It was found that when individuals receive such a payment, in the form of the Belgium win for life lottery, they generally did not give up on work entirely but instead reduced their working hours or moved to part-time work. It was suggested that this could tackle unemployment by distributing the amount of work available through job sharing. A UBI would also annul the need for a minimum wage which in turn would allow for new jobs to be created which were once deemed unaffordable under the minimum wage. This would once again contribute towards the goal of attaining full employment. This rests on the idea of a UBI being a minimum floor, which guarantees the minimum core of the right to social security, and thus allows individuals to live decent and dignified lives regardless of whether they are, or are not, employed.

Following this analysis the second research question was addressed. It was examined as to whether a UBI could be affordable within the UK and whether it could be practically implemented. Regarding affordability Article 2 ICESCR, which enshrines the notion of maximum available resources, was examined. This examination found that the question is not one of affordability within the UK but is instead one of resource distribution and policy choices. Further to this it was found that the UK, in failing to collect the tax it is owed, may well be in breach of its obligation to realise ICESCR rights to the maximum of its available resources. Even so if the UK were in breach this would by no means compel it to implement a UBI.

Finally it was assessed as to whether an affordable UBI scheme could be effectively implemented. It was argued that a UBI would cease the existence of poverty, as defined by the UK Government, in ensuring that every individual’s income exceeded the poverty threshold. Furthermore, a UBI would alleviate income based vulnerability and thus render the argument that the resources available should be given to the most vulnerable mute. This is because a UBI would prevent the income vulnerability from occurring as opposed to the current system which seeks to cure it after the fact.

The question of UBI implementation was summarised as one not of obligation, but instead one of a choice between policies and ideologies with a UBI being, a preferable means of realising the right to social security.