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Basic Income scheme could save NHS tens of billions of pounds, researchers say

New research finds that a Basic Income scheme could potentially save tens of billions of pounds through improving public health and the economy.

24/07/23

Basic Income scheme could save NHS tens of billions of pounds, researchers say

Groundbreaking new research finds that a regular and unconditional cash payment to all individuals could save tens of billions of pounds in public spending.

Basic Income (sometimes called Universal Basic Income [UBI]) is a social welfare proposal in which everyone regularly receives a guaranteed income in the form of an unconditional payment – without a means test or need to work.

In a study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Social Care Research (NIHR), researchers from the Universities of Northumbria, York, Bath and Strathclyde have presented radical evidence on the role that such schemes can play in dealing with our public health crisis.

The report, titled ‘Treating causes not symptoms: Basic Income as a public health measure’ uses a economic and health modelling, public opinion surveys and community consultation to investigate the impact of Basic Income schemes.

Researchers found that even a ‘modest’ implementation of a Basic Income scheme – such as £75 a week, £3,900 a year – would reduce child poverty to the lowest level since comparable records began in 1961 and achieve more at significantly less cost than the anti-poverty interventions of the New Labour governments. Researchers estimate that both child and pensioner poverty could be slashed by at least 60% each. They also estimate that, depending on the precise scheme implemented, working age poverty could be reduced by between 29% and 75%.

Researchers also looked at the knock-on effects for public health, finding between 120,000 and 1.04 million cases of clinically significant physical health symptoms could be prevented or postponed.

Analysis also showed that between 125,000 and 1 million cases of depressive disorders could be prevented or postponed. Based on depressive disorders alone, they estimated NHS and personal social services cost savings of between £125 million and £1.03 billion, assuming 50% of cases diagnosed and treated.

“As a GP, I increasingly find that my patients are in financially precarious positions, regardless of whether they are in work or on benefits,” said Dr Jonathan Coates, a GP in Newcastle upon Tyne and NIHR In-Practice Fellow at Durham University. “This has a clear impact on their physical and mental health.”

“Basic Income represents an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of previous bold interventions to address the causes, not the symptoms, of illness,” Coates added.
No country has yet implemented a Basic Income scheme. Numerous trials have shown promising results, however it is expected that any proposal would be met with opposition due to the divisive nature of governments being seen to hand out non-means tested benefits.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that polling analysed in the report found that the British public prefers a more generous Basic Income scheme that significantly reduces poverty and inequality and improves physical and mental health. Researchers said the polling suggests that taxpayers want to fund those schemes through new wealth and carbon taxes and increased corporation taxes, but also view small increases in income tax as tolerable.

Matthew Johnson, Professor of Public Policy at Northumbria University, and the project lead, said: the report makes clear that there is “no obvious alternative to Basic Income that has the same multipurpose impact across society.”

“These first indications of public health impact are debate-shifting, while evidence on British public opinion present clear pathways to funding through wealth, carbon and corporation tax increases.

“This should encourage administrations, such as in Wales and Greater Manchester, which have expressed support for policies like this.”

Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology at University of York and the author of The Spirit Level – a book on the ‘pernicious effects inequality’ – said: “Given decades of measurable failure, it should be clear that people in local communities affected by poverty, insecurity and lack of opportunity are the authoritative voice on what they need to enhance their health and wellbeing.

“We need to listen to their expressed needs and lived experience and create policies that support them to flourish.”

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