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Why the Liberal Democrats must adopt Universal Basic Income

March 2, 2018 3:32 PM
By Adam Bennett in Liberal Democrat Voice

To be quite blunt, I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about where it's all gone wrong for the Liberal Democrats. I've been a member of the party for seven years now, three-quarters of a decade no less, and in that time we have scarcely polled into the double digits.

Amongst the young, the people who you may think would be the natural supporters of an anti-Brexit, progressive party, the outlook is especially bleak. In the latest Times tracker conducted by YouGov, a mere 4% of 18-24-year-olds plan to vote Liberal Democrat at the next election. The number shoots up to a comparatively lofty 7% of 25-49-year-olds but it's still nowhere near good enough for a party such as ours.

It's time to face a stomach-churning truth. The Liberal Democrats are not a party that speaks to modern Britain, and we most certainly do not represent Britain's future. Not the way things stand, anyway.

As someone who is (just about) inside that 18-24 bracket, I think I've got a decent idea about why the party has haemorrhaged youth support so drastically (and no, it's not just about tuition fees - although that is a huge factor as I wrote for the New Statesman in 2015.)

In my view, it comes down to this. When my generation was growing up, we were all sold a story, the same story our parents were sold. Specifically, the story that if you work hard, apply yourself and 'get on', then you'll do well. Our parents bought into that story because it was broadly true for them. But we aren't buying into it because it's a lie for us. Millennials are the first generation set to earn less than our parents, so I think we can be forgiven for thinking that the system has not worked.

And it is this broken system that, to me, explains my generation's disinterest in the Liberal Democrats and our collective adoration for Jeremy Corbyn. The Liberal Democrats want to make the system fairer. But Corbyn wants to tear the system down. That is his appeal, and it's why we are falling by the wayside.

But we can beat Jeremy Corbyn at his own game. Liberals can remake the system too, and liberalism can provide a much more empowering and inspiring future than socialism ever can.

The first step we need to take to offering that future is supporting Universal Basic Income (UBI).

For those not aware, UBI is the idea that every citizen receives a set amount of money from the government every month. The money is not means-tested, every citizen receives the same amount, and people can spend it on whatever they like.

Nick Boles is, despite being a Tory, an intelligent and respectable thinker. When UBI is discussed in the media, his comments are often drawn upon. He posits that "mankind is hard-wired to work. We gain satisfaction from it. It gives us a sense of identity, purpose and belonging".

I don't disagree with Nick Boles. But the fact is that for too many people today, work does NOT give us a sense of identity, purpose and belonging. According to another YouGov poll, 37% of Brits describe their job as 'meaningless' (with a further 13% saying they did not know if their job was meaningful). That's because too many people today are taking jobs to pay bills so that they can live for the weekend.

And that's the future that is facing young people today. A meaningless job that allows you to pay the bills so you can have fun on the weekend. That doesn't sound like a generation being provided with a sense of purpose, identity or belonging by their careers to me.

That's why UBI is a liberal, empowering idea. By giving people the money to pay their bills (or at least make a large contribution to them), we suddenly become empowered to seek careers that are not so lucrative. To anyone reading this post, I ask you - would you be doing what you're doing from Monday to Friday if you didn't need the money? Is there something else you could be doing that would give you a greater sense of identity, purpose and belonging?

UBI is an idea whose time has come. We need a new story to tell the next generation, and it should be a story about individual empowerment and the freedom to explore your ideas to make your life and our world more meaningful. That's the story the Liberal Democrats need to start telling.

* Adam Bennett is the former Vice-Chairman of the Hertford and Stortford Liberal Democrats and worked as part of Sir Nick Clegg's communications team during his time as Deputy Prime Minister.

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