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 |