The Health Case for UBI

Northumbria University

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What is this project about?

This website hosts the work of a multidisciplinary team examining the health case for Universal Basic Income (UBI). This project examines the potential of the policy to advance public health in the wake of a decade of austerity and in the middle of a global pandemic. This is a time in which policy makers are both more aware than ever of the need for public health measures and less able than ever to deploy traditional means to deal with the crisis. New, upstream solutions need to be examined.

How might UBI promote health?

Evidence suggests that a person’s health is heavily influenced by social and economic environment: income influences housing and access to health care; predictability of income influences the extent to which individuals invest in long-term interests, and experience of inequality influences level of stress. These factors influence behaviour, such diet and drug use. This evidence supports public health policies that affect social factors. Some have suggested that Universal Basic Income (UBI) could achieve this by granting secure cash transfers to adult citizens irrespective of employment status.

Our model asserts that UBI can improve health by reducing poverty, increasing predictability of income and reducing inequality. While research suggests that these actions improve health, there have been no appropriate UBI schemes to assess that specific impact. There are several reasons for this, but most can be reduced to cost. After a decade of austerity and during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is both widespread concern about funding and understanding of the need for effective public health measures. As the Government is now committed to preventing, rather than just treating, ill-health and as governments elsewhere have considered introducing UBI to provide social security to citizens during COVID-19, we need to understand the impact the policy might have on public budgets and whether the policy is feasible.

UBI model of impact

How the case will be examined

This project seeks to interrogate the health case for UBI by bringing together a multi-disciplinary team with different knowledge and skill sets using a range of research methods to present, for the first time, a comprehensive assessment of the policy in advance of a trial. This supports the work of ActEarly, which is seeking to develop a pilot in Bradford, and RSA in its work on UBI.

There are four related project areas.

Work Package 1 attempts to design UBI for health impact. We will establish, first, what size and in what format payments should be made. We then consider how we might support the needs of disabled people who have vital additional health and living costs and support needs associated with age and housing. Next, we consider, ethically, how we should view people’s health interests against other societal interests to determine how UBI should fit into broader public policy. This leads into consideration of legal issues related to the introduction of UBI, including in relation to citizens’ entitlements to other forms of support. This will create three different UBI schemes designed for evaluation by modelling in the other packages.

Work Package 2 examines how evidence can be produced to evaluate effectively UBI as a health policy. First, we examine data from studies of the effect of income on health that have not already been included within scoping exercises. We then use computer modelling to fill known evidence gaps to estimate impact. Given that a precise account can only be established through measurement during a representative trial, we then work with the RSA to develop research protocols to capture health impact during and after different types of trials. Finally, we calculate the cost of conducting that research during those trials.

Work Package 3 establishes whether UBI designed for health is affordable. We begin by using the results of the modelling in package 2 to produce a monetary value for the health impact of UBI schemes in package 1. We then model the short, medium and long-term (5, 10, 20 years) cost of different UBI schemes from package 1 using the method outlined in Figure 2. This enables us to estimate overall economic returns on investment from those schemes using modelling. Finally, we develop an economic strategy for funding by considering reform of tax and public budgets and introduction of bond schemes.

Model of method by which viability of UBI can be established via health impact

Work Package 4 considers whether UBI is politically viable. We examine how health affects voter perception of the policy. This enables us to evaluate how UBI can be designed to appeal to the public, aiding development of a strategy for politicians wishing to advance the policy.

Finding and Publications

All project publications will be hosted open access on the publications page.

We will publicise findings through Compass and RSA.

If you have any queries or wish to become involved in the project, please contact the project lead, Matthew Johnson, Professor of Politics, Northumbria University (