We should not underestimate the financial hardship young people and students face due to high levels of debt, rising levels of mental health problems and low job prospects.
Students would benefit substantially from a Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is a model of citizen social security that gives everyone a regular and unconditional basic income per week or month as a safety net. It places trust in people, as vitally it is not means-tested and you can spend it in your best interests. Many existing means of social support will be kept, such as Child Benefit. No one who needs help will miss out. It would allow young people to take new opportunities. Students would be able to focus on their studies.
Student Union Motion
As a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester, I know how hard the past year has been for young people and how much a UBI would benefit them, just like many other groups in society. It is why I decided to table a policy motion at the University of Manchester Students’ Union (SU) Senate in May, which passed with 83% in favour, 7% against and 10% abstentions.
Fellow students agreed that universities should be run like social institutions that look after their students and local communities. They act like cold-hearted businesses that care more for profit than student experience and welfare, a common theme at the university regarding its response to issues such as racism and mental health.
The policy means the SU will promote UBI at national student level, and that the SU will push the university to research economic ideas like UBI which would help to diminish poverty, mental health problems, and reliance on precarious work. UBI is only one policy out of many that is needed to create a fairer society.
There are many reasons as to why UBI would benefit students massively. From lowering mental health problems caused by financial anxieties to allowing more time to concentrate on their studies.
Another is that job prospects have imploded and it is tough for many students to find a job from their degree. In March 2020, the Institute of Student Employers found that 27% of graduate recruiters would be recruiting fewer graduates in the near future. Between July and September 2020, youth unemployment had increased by 15% from pre-pandemic levels. A universal basic income would diminish economic precariousness caused by unemployment and unstable work substantially.
This new socio-economic stability would mean less reliance on universities’ highly means-tested and complicated financial help schemes, such as the Living Cost Support Fund at the University of Manchester, which asks for financial checks galore. Whilst they are happy to take your fees with no checks whatsoever. A UBI would provide everyone a stress-free financial safety net, something that universities simply do not offer.
This means greater opportunities for all young people, not just those who attend university. Children currently living in poverty – such as the 200,000 children in Greater Manchester – will potentially be able to go onto higher education, widening university participation. The fact that around 620,000 people in Manchester alone are in poverty shows how valuable a guarantee to be able to pay for food, rent, and bills would be. It would significantly change people’s lives for the better.
Evidence of UBI Benefits
There have been multiple studies that have proven this centuries-old idea necessary to combat poverty and economic precariousness. The pandemic made it clear as day that inequality is a large factor in death. A pilot between 2017 and 2018 in Finland showed that employment and school attendance increased, whilst stress, depression, hospitalisations, and indebtedness decreased with a UBI of £490 a month. Another example is a pilot that happened in Stockton, California. In March 2021, the results showed increased wellbeing, financial stability, and even greater job prospects.
A universal basic income would provide everyone with a safety net and would eliminate the majority of extreme poverty in the UK. According to a study by economist Karl Widerquist, by keeping other benefits such as Child Benefit and a UBI of only £148 a week would mean families below the poverty line would fall from 16% to 4% in the UK. Child and elderly poverty would all but disappear. In turn, society would become more equal as a basic income becomes a right.
A UBI, alongside other ideas, such as free or cheap public services, has the potential to diminish poverty and socio-economic insecurities significantly. Students and young people have the power to change the world because of our capacity to mobilise and as many of us have the belief that a more equal world is possible. That is why students need to promote socio-economic alternatives like UBI and get these ideas noticed in student groups, such as through passing SU motions. Young people have the power to influence politics and to improve not just our own lives, but all those in society that need help.