Universal Basic Services

Why should universal provision be limited to ‘free at the point of delivery’ healthcare and education?

Is Universal Basic Mobility the next step?


Both left and right are finding the idea of a Universal Basic Income very attractive:

Nine arguments against basic income debunked | adamsmith.org

A right-wing think tank is now supporting Universal Basic Income – but they’ve missed the point | independent.co.uk

Basic income and the three varieties of freedom | opendemocracy.net


There is now growing interest in Universal Basic Services – especially following the election when all parties promised huge amounts of spending.

It’s just a question of how and where.


A starting point might be transport, as the Smart Transport campaign group suggests:


Making public transport free or accessible to all

For more than 70 years, the NHS has provided UK residents with free healthcare. Free state education dates back even further, to the late 19th century, and is taken for granted as part of the fabric of society. Why should universal provision be limited to these services?

Should other services – such as transport – be provided as a right? Could universal basic mobility, or free access to a certain level of transport, be a practical, or justifiable, proposition?

Making public transport free or accessible to all

picture: England London bus PNG


And some towns and cities are already doing this, as covered by this blog:

The Dunkirk spirit: how free buses are revolutionising one French city

Luxembourg to become first country to make all public transport free


It’s been tried in the UK too:

A universal zero-fare bus service


The Futures Forum has looked at this before:

Futures Forum: Universal Basic Services


Here’s a review of a new study from the New Economics Foundation:




A new book launched this week sets out a plan for transforming public services, putting people in control and establishing universal rights of access according to need – not ability to pay. It argues that we can only flourish as a society – now and in the future – if we act together and take collective responsibility to provide all of us with life’s essentials.

The case for universal basic services argues that we can build on what we’ve got, the National Health Service and schools, for example, and branch out to meet other essential needs — housing, transport, childcare, adult social care and access to digital information. These are not nice-to-haves but necessities. If anyone who needs them is unable to access them, it’s not just bad news for those individuals. We all lose in the end.

But our different needs have to be met in different ways. The book offers a principled framework, which can be applied across the range of needs and services. And which examples we can usefully pay attention to – housing co-ops in Copenhagen, universal childcare in Norway, free buses for all in Tallin, Estonia, a useful way of funding adult social care in Germany, and so on.

The UBS framework can be customised for meeting different needs, but with the same set of principles.

  • We start with what people need, as opposed to what we want.
  • We aim for sufficiency, not something minimal.
  • Everyone has a right to have their needs met, so there’s an underpinning structure of enforceable entitlements.
  • People who need services should be actively engaged in identifying what they need and how their needs can be met. We embrace the principles, developed at NEF, of democratic dialogue and co-production.
  • It follows that this is not about top-down, uniform state provision, but about providing services through a range of organisations, including co-ops and social enterprises and common ownership – another idea developed at NEF. We can do this in order to promote local control and put an end to profiteering.
  • The role of public institutions is transformed. National and local governments continue to provide some services, but their crucial role is to ensure equal access according to need, to set and enforce standards, to collect and distribute funds, and to support a wide range of provider organisations and to coordinate their efforts across the different sectors to get the best results.
  • The funds for universal basic services are not just a matter of public expenditure, they are a vital investment of shared resources in the social infrastructure that makes all our lives possible.

This approach brings real gains in terms of equity, efficiency, solidarity and sustainability.

The case for universal basic services | neweconomics.org

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