Universal basic income: Report
The Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty
To the Human Rights Council at its 35th session, 22 March 2017
The Special Rapporteur notes that the fundamental values of the international human rights system are under attack in new and diverse ways in 2017. One widely shared explanation is the rapidly growing sense of economic insecurity afflicting large segments of many societies.
The report is premised on the view that the human rights movement needs to address and respond to the fundamental changes that are taking place in economic and social structures at the national and global levels. One of the most vibrant proposals is to replace or supplement existing social protection systems with a universal basic income ("basic income"). This proposal has recently drawn attention from governments, scholars, and practitioners in various fields.
The Special Rapporteur presented this thematic report on universal basic income and its relation to extreme poverty to the HRC at its 35th session in March 2017.
Basic income offers a bold and imaginative solution to pressing problems that are about to become far more intractable as a result of the directions in which the global economy appears inexorably to be heading. While there are many objections, relating to affordability in particular, the concept should not be rejected out of hand on the grounds that it is utopian.
In its comprehensive and ideal form, a basic income is explicitly designed to challenge most of the key assumptions underpinning existing social security systems. Rather than payments being partial, they guarantee a floor; instead of being episodic, payments are regular; rather than being needs-based, they are paid as a flat rate to all; they come in cash, rather than as messy in-kind support; they accrue to every individual, rather than only to needy households; rather than requiring that various conditions be met, they are unconditional; rather than excluding the well off, they are universal; and instead of being based on lifetime contributions, they are funded primarily from taxation.
In today's world of severe economic insecurity, creativity in social policy is necessary. The report calls for acknowledgement of the fact that economic insecurity represents a fundamental threat to all human rights. It calls for the rights to work, social security, and an adequate standard of living to be accorded prominence on the human rights agenda.
Linked to this is the need to acknowledge the central role of the State, of fair and progressive fiscal policies, and of redistributive justice. Most importantly, the debates over social protection floors and basic income need to be brought together. They have thus far been kept largely separate, in a counterproductive and ultimately self-defeating way.