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Thursday 19th September 2019

Why our ‘gig economy’ needs a Universal Basic Income

Could taxi drivers and other gig workers benefit from a Universal Basic Income?

The ‘gig economy’ is thriving in Britain right now. Companies that initially sold themselves as ‘a bit of extra money on the side’, such as Uber and Deliveroo, are increasingly providing the bulk of some people’s income.

I took a degree in illustration and would love to be able to pursue it full time one day. But a sense of realism means I can’t be a one-trick pony. So the gig economy – driven by emerging technologies has come to my rescue. As well as selling art through Etsy and The Prince’s Trust, I blog for a living. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things if technology hadn’t progressed.

In fact, as new technology is created, new career opportunities are popping up everywhere. Companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google have created roles that didn’t previously exist. How many people would have understood what a ‘blogger’ or ‘Youtuber’ was back in 1999?

Yet, the flip side is that some technologies and innovations are removing jobs from the economy, pushing people into redundancy, or slashing their incomes. Examples include customer service staff being replaced by chatbots and – perhaps soon – driverless cars.

Like it or not, people need steady incomes so a diminishing availability of jobs risks the nation’s personal finances. Policy-makers and economists have been searching for a solution to this problem and that’s leading some towards the idea of something called “Universal Basic Income”.

What is Universal Basic Income?

It’s an idea whereby a sum of money – a ‘basic income’ – is paid to each and every citizen each month, no strings attached. It is paid to everyone in a society, regardless of whether they’re in work or not, and is not means-tested.

As Britons like me rely increasingly on less stable sources of  money, a Universal Basic Income would provide a consistent base of regular funds and could even give us the freedom to pursue self-improvement activities, like learning new skills or starting a business.

Some also argue that it might also embolden workers to negotiate better salaries and demand better working conditions, as they would no longer have to rely solely on their job to get by.

It’s not just politicians on the Left who are in favour of Universal Basic Income. Several elite tech entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, are interested in the concept.

There are also a handful areas in Scotland contemplating trialling Universal Basic Income programmes. The theory that it will replace some state benefits – and will therefore be affordable – is an idea driving interest by policy-makers around the world.

There’s no doubt about it, bringing Universal Basic Income about will take a lot of work and some serious brain power – but I believe something must be done to reduce income inequality and empower the nation to diversify the way we make money. This scheme could be it.

What do you think?

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Maddy Sutherland

Maddy Sutherland

Maddy is a freelance illustrator who lives in Glasgow. She's recently graduated and is working hard to make ends meet. Self-employed? Read Maddy's experiences here.

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