The Resolution Foundation’s prediction that inequalities are going to grow (UK faces return to inequality of Thatcher years, 1 February) makes gloomy reading. Sadly it is underestimated because it takes no account of cuts in what Barbara Castle, when she was secretary of state at the Department of Health and Social Security 40 years ago, called “the social wage”. By this she meant “the publicly provided services which mean so much to family healthcare, education, housing and a good environment”. She estimated that in 1975 the social wage added £20 a week to the average working household. At the time the average full-time weekly wage of a male manual worker was £52 and a female manual worker £31.

Every week you have reported cuts not only to health, education and social care but also to parks, museums, libraries, children’s centres, buses and public lavatories. All these services are essential to a caring society and can only be provided collectively. They are part of our social fabric and the more threadbare this becomes the less autonomy children, people with disabilities and older, frail people enjoy. At the same time it becomes harder for their families to support them. Instead of insisting that families should do more (and they already do a great deal – there are five times as many family and friends caring for older people as there are paid carers), the government should reverse the massive cuts made to local authorities’ budgets and increase the “social wage”.
Hilary Land
Emerita professor of family policy, University of Bristol

So basic income has to be “an interesting idea whose time has not yet come” (Editorial, 2 February). Britain is after all a conservative-thinking, backward country, and will be the last in the developed world to try basic income, because it looks expensive and people are lazy. We prefer to hand people a grudging, dead dole on condition that they work no more than 16 hours a week, and spend the rest of their time applying for jobs that simply do not exist.

On the other hand, we could transform JSA etc into a useful stimulus to the green sector of the economy, the sector that protects and heals the condition of society and environment. The cost is negligible, and the benefit to society and economy will be significant. It could be done as a pilot in any willing local authority with very little delay. “Green wage subsidy” (search it) will bring about a smooth transition from the clunking machinery of Beveridge to the calm simplicity of basic income.
Dr Richard Lawson
Churchill, Somerset

Your editorial makes some valid points. Yes, there are basic income schemes that would be expensive; and if a basic income were too high then it might disincentivise employment. However, there are also schemes that would not be expensive, and there are schemes that would be more likely to incentivise employment than to disincentivise it.

Research for the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex (see An evaluation of a strictly revenue neutral Citizen’s Income scheme, ISER, June 2016) shows that a basic income of £60 a week could be paid for by reducing the income tax personal allowance, increasing the rate of income tax by just 3%, and revising national insurance contribution regulations, and would not need additional public expenditure. The scheme would take a lot of households off means-tested benefits, and every one of those households would experience lower deduction rates on additional earned income, so employment would be incentivised. The scheme would reduce poverty, reduce inequality, and, importantly, would not impose losses on low-income households at the point of implementation, which some other proposed schemes would do.

It is the current benefits system that disincentivises employment, because a lot of households experience almost no additional disposable income if they earn more; and it is the current system of in-work benefits that function as a significant subsidy to wages, because tax credits and universal credit go up if wages go down. A basic income would not do that, so it would have less of a subsidy effect.

It is of course important to hear differing views on whether basic income is an idea whose time has come: but those views – and especially those offered by the Guardian – should be based on the available evidence.
Dr Malcolm Torry
Director, Citizen’s Income Trust

Your editorial is overhasty in kicking the universal basic income into the long grass. Can you suggest any alternative that can tackle the discontent in a world where job destruction through technology seems bound to outpace the creation of jobs, many of which will be very low-paid? If not, it would be wise to build on the successful pilots around the world to develop ways to make UBI a reality. Thomas Piketty’s proposal of a wealth tax might be part of the increased revenue stream to which those whose quality of life has not been significantly affected by the 2008 crash, people like me, should contribute.
Hugh Burkhardt

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