A report by The Green Party of England and Wales concluded that by moving to a basic income the UK would see annual administrative savings of 50%, representing a saving of £8bn (1). The reason why such a saving is possible is because the current system of multiple parallel benefits to which a person may become entitled for different periods of time, subject to factors which can change overnight, (such as cohabitation, or finding employment) requires not only a large volume of staff to administer each scheme but brings with it the need for constant re-assessment. In other words, we have created a system with an unrealistic goal; to know exactly the status of each claimant at all times with regards to several factors which do not vary uniformly, but which may affect each other. The political narrative of preventing ‘scroungers’ and making sure no-one has more than they need means that the cost of this administration will only ever increase and assessment becomes ever more intrusive.
A basic income could replace most of this expensive, unwieldy and unfair apparatus with universal state support varying only according to two factors; citizenship, and age (child, adult, pensioner). An individual’s age is simple to calculate from a given date of birth, and citizenship changes very rarely for the vast majority of individuals. This would be responsible for greatly increased ease of administration of a basic income system in comparison with the policing of conditionality requirements required today.
There are two exceptions to this rule. The first is that there would remain a separate system of disability benefits to recognise that disabled people are less able to find paid work, and to recognise that disability brings with it additional costs which non-disabled citizens do not need to bear, such as adapting extra heating costs, adaptations to their home or using taxis instead of driving.
The second exception is Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. In an ideal world it could be incorporated into a basic income, but this would only be fair if the cost of housing was sufficiently similar across the nation. A basic income would have a positive effect on the cost of housing, which we go into here in more detail, but the reality is that Housing Benefit is in need of its own reform and thus must be left to one side for now.