Rise of robot workers makes powerful case for universal basic income – shadow chancellor

© Ina Fassbender
Labour is mulling the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) in response to the prospective robotization of the workforce, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said.

McDonnell, who will appear Monday evening at the launch of a report on UBI by the left-wing campaign group Compass, said the group “makes an interesting case for a universal and unconditional payment to all.”

The policy, which was rejected by referendum in Switzerland on Sunday, would provide every citizen with a flat-rate unconditional income.

“[UBI] could prepare our country for any revolution in jobs and technology to come – it is an idea Labour will be closely looking at over the next few years,” the shadow chancellor said.

The Compass report argues the growing role of automation across many sectors may jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of low-paid workers.

“Central to the case for a UBI is the way it would help prepare us for a world in which the new technological revolution, driven by artificial intelligence and robotics, will, over time, transform the nature of work and the type and number of jobs.

“A UBI offers a powerful way of protecting all citizens from the great winds of change to be ushered in by the fourth industrial age, and of sharing the potentially massive productivity gains that it will bring,” the report says.

Labour backbencher Jeremy Reynolds, who resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in January, also welcomed the report, suggesting that introducing a UBI could positively transform the current welfare state by replacing a number of different means-tested benefits with a simple universal payment for every citizen.

“As our economy and the jobs in it have changed, the welfare state has struggled to keep up. If we want a system that makes work pay and does something to tackle the appalling levels of poverty in the UK, then we need to think radically. This is a welcome report into what could be the cornerstone of a modern welfare state,” he said.