Back in May, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, suggested that if Labour won the next election it would launch pilot schemes for universal basic income. The aim of UBI is to provide every citizen with regular unconditional payments to afford “basic security”. It might seem an impossibly utopian notion – free cash for all, provided by the state – but it has fired the imagination of growing numbers of thinkers from across the political spectrum.
Last week, at the Labour party conference, McDonnell unveiled his plans for universal provision, not of income but of services. Where UBI provides a regular cash sum to every individual, universal basic services, or UBS, provides universal, free access to services from health to education, from housing to transport. That, too, might seem utopian, but is an idea that, again, has gathered support in recent years.