Ref.: Goldsmith, Michael (1997) "Universal Basic Income and the Concept of Citizenship", Social Policy Journal of New Zealand 9:45-54.

(c) Social Policy Agency of the Dept. of Social Welfare.


Michael Goldsmith

University of Waikato


Following the October 1996 New Zealand general election, the Briefing Papers for the new Minister of Social Welfare, Roger Sowry, were released. Newspapers widely reported them to contain a reference to the advisability of something called a universal basic income. Anticlimactically, however, the mention of UBI in the Briefing Papers amounted to the following paragraph (DSW 1996: 22):

'Basic income regimes', otherwise known as Universal Basic Incomes, where everyone receives a modest benefit from the government to cover basic needs, can reduce high abatement rates and accommodate casual or part-time employment. However, they are costly and can discourage people from working or earning more. A variant that targets those with part-time work capacity or with irregular or unpredictable earnings, but avoids the cost of a universal scheme might be feasible. An optional basic income, with a lower rate of payment and rate of tax that is around or marginally above the top general tax rate, could be made available to a defined group, such as sole parents. This approach is worth exploring.

While many proponents of UBI would have welcomed the last sentence, the most striking feature of these comments is their demonstrable unfamiliarity with the concept and its history. First, it is difficult to see how a "variant that targets those with part-time work capacity or with irregular or unpredictable earnings" could work except by means of an extremely cumbersome bureaucratic system, thereby depriving UBI of the simplicity that is one of its most attractive features. Second, a targeted version of UBI is no version at all. While 'universalism' is as contestable a notion in the field of social welfare as elsewhere, UBI-type proposals only make sense in relation to an eligibility regime that strives for inclusiveness. Inevitably, therefore, the issue of citizenship---the question of who falls within the parameters of the rights and responsibilities surrounding UBI ---is fundamental to its operation.

Take the poetic, almost mantra-like, credo of the London- based Citizens Income Study Centre:

For every citizen the inalienable right
_Regardless of age, sex, race, creed, labour-market or marital status
To a small but guaranteed income

This is almost the same as the definition offered by the Trust in its previous incarnation as the Basic Income Research Group (see, e.g., BIRG Bulletin 14: 2 [1992]), but with the crucial addition of "race" and "creed" to the list of factors which should not affect eligibility as a 'citizen'. The addition of these terms has reflected, somewhat belatedly, a growing recognition of cultural and ethnic pluralism in Britain, as elsewhere. The change also coincided with a burgeoning interest in the policy implications and conceptual subtleties of citizenship arising from proposals for a Citizens' Charter in Britain, the revival of political democracy in pockets of Eastern Europe, and the growing moves of the European Union to a common sphere of citizenship.

Despite these changes and the growing theoretical sophistication they have brought in their train, the ideas of citizenship implicit in UBI proposals continue to pose problems of ambiguity and uncertainty. Philippe Van Parijs, one of Basic Income's most able and eloquent spokespeople, has defined BI as "an income unconditionally paid to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement" (1992: 3). What, or rather who, is he referring to as "all"? His definition reflects the inclusiveness envisioned in BI as an ideal but falls frustratingly short of specifying how to achieve it.

Citizen's Income and Basic Income

It may be useful to begin with the tension between the variants of UBI already alluded to. An important recent essay by David Purdy (1994) investigates the merits of the notion of Citizen's Income and emphasizes that it is analytically distinct from and logically prior to Basic Income in the broad sense. His reasoning is similar to that which motivated the British organisation's name change, noted above. Purdy begins his analysis, as many others have done (e.g., Jordan 1987, 1989), by highlighting the stark choice between two ways forward for welfare states, ways which embody two contrasting visions of the future. On one hand, there is the neo-liberal vision, arguably dominant in New Zealand since 1984, which stresses individual responsibility and economic competitiveness. Its goals are to cut back welfare spending (widely seen as unaffordable), to encourage and, if necessary, require full participation in the labour market under whatever conditions the market dictates, and to target social welfare assistance as narrowly as possible through means-testing, work-readiness criteria and time limits on state-provided assistance. The only viable alternative vision, in Purdy's view, is one that marries the liberal tradition of concern for personal liberty and the socialist tradition of concern for social justice (1994: 33, 37). At its heart is the idea of a Citizen's Income, which "differs from all existing social transfers, in that it is payable:

i) to individuals rather than families or households;

ii) irrespective of income from other sources;

iii) without requiring any past or present work performance, or any test of willingness to seek paid work or accept jobs if they are offered" (1994: 33).

To use Purdy's terms, Citizen's Income is a direct form of social transfer, based on a categorical entitlement, which is universal and based on liberal-socialist justificatory principles (1994: 33-37). Only if it is then tied to some conception of subsistence (either 'partial' or 'full') should it be termed a Basic Income.

The concept of Citizen's Income... is not tied to any notion of 'basic needs'. CI scales could exceed or fall short of whatever level of money income is deemed just adequate to enable a single, able-bodied person of conventional working age to purchase a subsistence bundle of commodities (Purdy 1994: 39).

He devotes a full section of his paper to the procedures and ramifications of turning Citizen's Income into Basic Income, which cannot be addressed here (see Van Parijs 1995; Goldsmith 1997). While we do not have to place undue reliance on Purdy's distinction between CI and BI, it does clarify a number of issues which need to be disentangled before proceeding with the task of assessing and implementing such a policy.

Dimensions of Citizenship

In some respects, the distinction between Citizen's Income and Basic Income corresponds to what might from another angle be seen as the two cross-cutting dimensions of breadth and depth of citizenship. Together, these make up the complex of policies, ideas and practice which may be referred to as Universal Basic Income. Treated separately, however, they concern the quite different questions of (1) who receives UBI entitlement and (2) what such entitlement means. Both questions have normative connotations. Inevitably, they not only ask who is to get UBI and what that entails, but also who should receive it and what that should entail.

Breadth and depth are not necessarily , and certainly have not always been historically, linked in a mutually reinforcing manner. In New Zealand, depth began to be added to notions of citizenship with the political, industrial and social reforms of the 1890s, at the same time as some extremely restrictive policies on immigration (and therefore exclusive policies on citizenship) were espoused, restricting the breadth of entitlement. Conversely, in some respects citizenship has been broadening under neo-liberal regimes, such as the post-1984 free market policies in New Zealand, whereas the depth (i.e., the 'richness', 'thickness') of citizenship has been diminishing with the decline of the Keynesian welfare state. Another way of saying this is that in the late twentieth-century, a comparatively 'thin' veneer of citizenship may be applying to wider (or perhaps just newer) categories of citizen. Such a development is, perhaps, logically compatible with an ideology that stresses formal rights and individual responsibilities (see Bellamy and Greenaway 1995). Nevertheless, this process of dissociating 'breadth' and 'depth' is an outcome of specific historical forces and there is no intrinsic reason to suggest that the two dimensions cannot be brought into a much more symbiotic relationship.

Depth of Citizenship

The extension of legal and constitutional rights, the enactment of universal suffrage, the rise of the welfare state, the expansion of state-provided housing, education and healthcare---the whole history of these developments illustrates what I mean by the 'depth' of citizenship. Lack of space prevents a review of all these matters here. What can be said is that most UBI proponents increasingly accept that a workable version of UBI needs to be part of a package deal, a 'social wage' that addresses all basic needs as well as economic subsistence and labour flexibility.

A classic essay by British social theorist and policy-maker, T. H. Marshall, on Citizenship and Social Class(1950) still stands as one of the most important discussions of the 'depth' of citizenship. For Marshall, citizenship was a complex notion, involving civil, political and social elements, all of which together constituted full societal membership. To this end, he drew on traditions of British historical scholarship to show a gradual increase in rights of citizenship over time. Civil (legal) rights came to the fore in the eighteenth century, and guaranteed liberty of the person, freedom of speech, thought and faith, the right to own property and to conclude valid contracts, and a general right to justice. Political rights arose early in the nineteenth century and included the right to participate in the exercise of political power, either as a member of a body invested with political authority or as an elector of the members of such a body. Finally, in Marshall's sequence, social rights which emerged later in the nineteenth century and only gained equal importance with the others in the twentieth century, encompassed "the whole range from the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilised being according to the standards prevailing in the society" (1950: 11). This last, the social element, is clearly linked to the development of relatively open state-funded systems of education and to the development of institutions of the welfare state.

Marshall deserves credit for providing one of the first and most powerful statements of the complexity and richness that social citizenship entails and his ideas are still influential (Scott 1994). Nevertheless, his historical narrative has been criticised for being triumphalist, complacently evolutionist and ethnocentric, and for underplaying the importance of political struggle at every step of the way (e.g., Roche 1987; but cf. Watts 1995: 21). In any event, he needs to be understood in the context of his times: in the late 1940s, fascism appeared to have been vanquished once and for all, capitalists seemed to have largely accepted the need for a welfare state and for the nationalisation of large enterprises, the role of the state in ensuring equality and redistribution seemed like a fait accompli, and the goal of 'full employment' not only looked desirable but achievable. Indeed, it has often been remarked that Marshall, like Sir William Beveridge before him, took labour force participation to be an essential underpinning of full citizenship. Their view of what it is to be a citizen is therefore skewed silently but massively in favour of the stereotype of an employed adult male subject. Where women juggle paid work with childcare, where a large percentage of the work force is casualised, where individual work histories may reflect rising rates of joblessness, intermittent employment and repeated changes of career---all of which are arguably features of the late-twentieth century world ---then the limitations of the Marshall/Beveridge model stand exposed. Moreover, large numbers of people have intention or possibility of working in the existing paid labour force because they have more important things to do, like caring for dependants, doing 'voluntary' work, or surfing (Van Parijs 1991).

Breadth of Citizenship

The first set of issues that arise under this heading concern what is popularly known as globalization. As Purdy acknowledges, whatever the arguments in favour of CI as promoting a deeper conception of citizenship, "it remains to be decided who qualifies as a citizen" (1994: 38). In the case of a "single, well-established state", he claims there is no great difficulty in determining citizenship, provided that legal residence becomes the defining criterion rather than ancestry or ethnicity. "However", he adds, "in anything less than a unitary world state, any definition of citizenship is an act of closure: 'insiders' are included, 'outsiders' excluded" (1994: 38).

As a way out, he simply notes (1) that states are artificial and historically contingent creations, whose borders and powers are continually revised; and (2) that "a justice-seeking state would operate an immigration policy which was neither discriminatory nor laissez-faire; would refrain from dominating or exploiting the citizens of other states; and would act in concert with the international community to overcome unjust structural inequalities in the global division of resources and the pattern of international trade" (1994: 38).

Sketchy as these remarks may be, they address concerns that were not seen as salient for welfare analysts before the current era. Marshall's conception of citizenship again serves as a useful example of a rather outdated view. Its extreme idealism quite unconsciously justifies cultural exclusiveness: citizenship, he argued, is "based on loyalty to a civilisation which is a common possession" (1950: 56). Is this a viable conception in multicultural and bicultural societies or in conditions of permeable national boundaries? Its unstated premise is a very unitary and homogeneous notion of British culture, ethnicity and nationalism. I will return to this point.

New Zealand's Citizenship Sphere

For the moment, however, I want to look at New Zealand's sphere of citizenship, which extends beyond the borders on the country as conventionally defined. This region of the world provides some interesting insights on the issue and some test cases of potentially international significance for the extension of UBI as a transnational programme.

There are two sets of rights to consider: (1) the (still reasonably unconditional) rights of New Zealanders and Australians to live and work in each other's countries, and (2) the unconditional rights of New Zealand citizenship possessed by people from the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. Despite increasing signs of independence by some of their governments, these entities will remain, for the foreseeable future, part of what constitutional experts call the 'New Zealand realm' (Frame 1992).

The degree of flexibility shown by these relationships establishes useful precedents, especially where it has led to greater inclusiveness. In many respects, New Zealand citizenship has become a mobile and ever-changing status and this country has come to enjoy the least exclusive immigration policy in its history over the last few years. The latest published set of official regulations put out by the Department of Internal Affairs states lists about half a dozen criteria by which one may be deemed to be a New Zealand citizen by virtue of birth or constitutional links and another half dozen requirements for those who wish to become citizens (DIA 1995: 3-5). The exact details are too lengthy and complex to be mentioned here, but they are of interest to the extent that they reflect the following:

(1) a fractured and contentious colonial history that includes Britain's colonisation of this country, recent ambivalent attempts to cut the umbilical cord with the United Kingdom, and New Zealand's late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century colonialist ventures in parts of Polynesia;

(2) the political and economic turn towards Asia, encouragement of economic migrants from that region in particular, and the trend towards valuing economic criteria more highly in assessing citizenship applications (seeing New Zealand as part of a 'free global market' in migratory labour, capital and entrepreneurship).

These developments suggest that citizenship criteria will have to become more, not less, flexible. Indeed, just as the discussion of 'depth' in the previous section implied the need to envision a form of citizenship which is suited to 'post-industrial' conditions (Roche 1987: 389-92), we may have to envision forms which are 'post-national'. A pragmatic yet eminently logical solution involves linking citizenship to the sphere of taxation. Having one's primary registration as a taxpayer in a particular jurisdiction---that is, being what the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department calls being a 'tax resident'---would make one eligible for UBI. In fact, Keith Rankin's evolving proposal for UBI (1991, 1992a, 1992b, 1997 and this journal), in which a standard tax credit is central, lends itself admirably to such a strategy. (He has also suggested another way of extending UBI beyond nation-state boundaries, by diverting a percentage of the social wage to overseas development assistance.) The globalisation of the world economy increasingly puts rigid and conventional state boundaries into doubt. Such borders will remain but they are likely to persist in spite of, or even because of, the flows of goods, peoples and influences across them.

The Future of Citizenship

Further rethinking is needed, in any event, for citizenship to become more just and more meaningful than it is at the moment, even with the declining exclusiveness of 'New Zealanderhood'. First, we have to recognise the cultural diversity and pluralism that already exists here and that is likely to increase. For example, Barry Hindess (1992), writing about Australia but with obvious relevance for New Zealand, maintains that, if taken seriously, cultural pluralism challenges orthodox understandings of citizenship, the very egalitarianism of which can become totalitarian. According to the standard view, we are accorded citizenship as individuals, not as minority groups, and if we reside in a state's territory we are expected eventually to take on the status of citizens or to move on. In short, we are expected to assimilate. Hindess says that this egalitarian and radically individualistic view is underpinned by the weakness in Marshall's vision already alluded to: an untheorised assumption of national cultural homogeneity. This assumption is strange, given that humans have experienced cultural diversity at least from the time that the first states were established. "The idea that the political community consists, or should normally consist, of those who share a common culture is an illusion [and] a dangerous one" (Hindess 1992: 22; see also an interview with Ralf Dahrendorf cited by Denise Riley [1992: 207] and her accompanying discussion of the tensions between equality and difference [1992: 204-9]).

New Zealand's immigration policies of the last few years (setting aside the 1996 election-year hiccups which have already seen some tightening) have contributed to greater flexibility in policy terms. Intentionally or otherwise, however, they have also created an obstacle to the rethinking of citizenship's depth. The problem I am alluding to is that those policies of greater openness, if predicated on a 'thin' notion of citizenship, foster and exacerbate the very social divisions that benefit the neo-liberal programmes currently in place.

On one hand, targeted and stigmatising social welfare policies produce 'second-class citizens', such as the unemployed, the poor, the unskilled. In what might seem a paradox, however, I would argue that the new 'economic' immigrants are also marginal citizens. More than any other categories of migrant to this country, they are required to prove their economic worth. In short, their 'hyper-usefulness' serves as a useful moral contrast, from the neo-liberal perspective, to the 'uselessness' of the underclass. The entrepreneurial zeal of one highlights the fecklessness of the other. It is hardly surprising, then, that the influx of the new category of migrant has inflamed resentment, especially among the dispossessed or those who fear they might enter those ranks. The resulting social divisions may not be intended as such by promoters of New Right policies, but are probably seen as unavoidable consequences that may be manageable and that even have their use in fostering domestic and international competitiveness.


Citizenship ought to be seen as an emergent condition, responsive to changing political and economic circumstances. The history of colonial and post-colonial societies shows, as in the example of New Zealand, that citizenship stems from changing and multiple criteria. For a significant proportion of the world's population, citizenship itself may even be multiple (take, for example, dual nationality and passport holding, the European Union's common format passport, and so on).

If there are signs of increasing flexibility and freedom in the international sphere of citizenship, it seems logical to extend such developments into the spheres of work, income and welfare. There is inequity in the fact that full-time paid employees have rarely had to justify their citizenship rights, as against those in the domestic sphere, the voluntary sector, and so on. Too many theorists of social citizenship have insisted for too long that those seeking admission to the ranks of the privileged (as secure well-paid workers or as nationals of 'developed' countries) should be allowed entry only on the prior condition that they prove their usefulness (Probert 1995: 32-33). The presumption is that those in paid work are useful and that those who are not in paid work are either useless or that their occupations, such as motherhood or caring, are such sacred callings that payment would besmirch their nobility. Yet a great deal full-time paid employment is not necessarily 'useful', while many kinds of essential work remain unpaid. Universal Basic Income offers a way to resolve these contradictions and to recast citizenship claims in ways appropriate to the contemporary world. In so doing, it conjoins two supposedly incongruent areas of progressive concern: a 'politics of redistribution' that deals with struggles over resources and a 'politics of recognition' that deals with conflicts about identities and plural cultures (Fraser 1995).

Acknowledgements: This an abridged and revised version of a paper given at the UBINZ conference in Wellington, June 1996. I would like to thank Ian Ritchie, Keith Rankin, Les Gilchrist and Beryl Fletcher for their input and assistance.



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