French National Assembly to vote on universal basic income study

The country's parliament will consider launching an economic feasibility study for the benefit reform

Members of France's National Assembly are to vote on the principle of a so-called “universal basic income” for the first time.

Former minister Delphine Batho, an MP from Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party, has tabled an amendment asking the government to launch a feasibility study of the policy.

A universal basic income is the idea of paying all citizens a flat, unconditional income, unusually instead of existing policies like means-tested benefits.

Proponents of the idea say it would save on welfare administration costs, reduce the poverty traps of traditional welfare states, be fair to people who have jobs, and give people more autonomy in general.

Opponents of the income have raised concerns including work disincentives, lack of targeted support for those most in need, and the size of the spending commitment required.

Ms Batho’s amendment suggests that the basic income might be a suitable response to the challenges of the “digital revolution and the changes it has brought to work”.

The amendment, filed on 11 January, calls for the Government to produce a detailed report on the topic by no later than June of this year.

That report would have to include “a macro-economic feasibility study, a comparative impact study on different approaches to basic income, as well as an analysis on the experiments on the subject that are currently going on, on a local and an international scale”.

The amendment applies to the Government’s Bill for a Digital Republic, which seeks to modernise France’s legal framework around technology and the internet.

Interest in the proposed policy, which has support on both the left and right of politics, has surged in recent months.

Finland has launched similar feasibility study to the one proposed in France, and Switzerland rejected a proposal for a very high basic income in a recent national referendum.

Last month the respected think-tank the RSA suggested that the UK adopt a universal basic income of £71 a week for all adults, with children also getting a payment similar to child benefit.

“The welfare state has become incredibly complex whilst locking those it seeks to help in a vicious circle of low pay, insecurity and an intrusive state. The RSA doubts the current system can be fixed,” said Anthony Painter, the report’s author. 

“A system of Universal Basic Income is the best alternative to help people improve their own lives over time – it provides better security to support people’s needs to work, learn, set up a business or care for their family.”

During the Labour leadership contest Jeremy Corbyn, who now leads the party, said he was interested in the idea of a “guaranteed social wage” – a similar proposal – but that he believed there were issued that had to be worked through.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto advocated a basic income in the early 1990s but this proposal was scrapped. The Green Party supports the idea of a universal basic income.

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