Universal basic services

Universal Basic Services (UBS) are a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a community, region, or country receive unconditional access to a range of free, basic, public services, funded by taxes and provided by a government or public institution.


Universal Basic Services is a development of the welfare state model. The term appeared in 2017 in press[1] and the first modelling in a report from University College London (UCL)'s Institute for Global Prosperity[2] The British Labour Party welcomed[3] the report and announced in 2018[4] that UBS would be incorporated into the party's platform.

UBS inclusion rationaleEdit

Universal Basic Services are provided on the basis that they are necessary to sustain and enable each citizen's material safety, opportunity to contribute, or participate in the decision making processes of their community, region or country, even if they lack any financial income. The UBS model extends the notion of a social safety net to include those elements necessary to fulfil a larger role[5] in society.

To substantiate inclusion in a UBS provision services meet at least one of these conditions:

  • necessary to maintain the individual's, or the society's, material safety
  • necessary to enable the individual's personal effort to use their skills and abilities to contribute to their society, either for remuneration or not
  • necessary to allow the individual to participate in the political system(s) within which they live

The following table represents rationales used for the inclusion of certain services in a UBS definition:

UBS Inclusion Rationales
UBS Material safety Opportunity Participation
Health & care

Service contentEdit

The specific content of any set of UBS varies according to the resources available to the society and their political definitions of what constitutes basic provision - see UBS Inclusion Rationale.

Many societies already provide some elements of UBS, such as public education and public healthcare services.

Service definitions and examplesEdit


Public housing are built to provide affordable or subsidized housing for lower income earners. This is inline with rationale behind the UBS, to sustain social inclusion. UN-Habitat estimate that approximately 40% of the total world population will lack access to affordable housing by 2030.[6]


Food security

Health and careEdit

Services that support health, and services which provide for care of disabled, elderly and others.


Schooling and training.


Local transport to access other services and employment.


Access to communications that enable participation in society as well as access to the other services.


The Legal category UBS is a broad definition to include safety services, legal assistance and the apparatus necessary to sustain the society's legal system and political system. The courts, assemblies, political salaries, civil services and other aspects of the structure of the society are included in the definition of Legal UBS.

Local service definitionsEdit

UBS are designed and delivered by governments and institutions which tailor the exact content of the services to meet the particular circumstances of the local community.


In the standardised definition of UBS the cost of the services is funded by revenues derived from income taxes, which are hypothecated to the delivery of the UBS.

Most UBS services in societies around the world today are funded out of general government revenues, such as publicly funded healthcare.

Model costingEdit

In October 2017 the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London (UCL) produced a report[2] modelling the cost of UBS for the United Kingdom. The report modelled funding the UBS services (£42.16Bn) from a reduction in the Personal Tax Allowance.

Cost justifications for UBSEdit

The cost of extending public services as universal entitlements is justified through some combination of the following savings:

  • substitution of cash benefits
  • enhanced efficiency of delivery resulting from local design and demand management[7]
  • long term savings in labour costs as UBS substitute for increases in pay[8]

Labour market effectsEdit

The two most common effects on operagraphics (labour markets) are:

  1. increased flexibility through enhanced access to job opportunities (e.g. transport access[9])
  2. reduced upward pressure on labour rates through the substitution of direct financial cost ("social wage"[8])
    1. The 2017 UCL report shows potential cost replacement of 80% of average pay for the lowest income decile[2]

Environmental benefitsEdit

UBS can lead to lower emissions, particularly through greater use of public transport.[10]

Criticisms and conditionsEdit

  • Responsive, effective and accountable local government – with financial autonomy – is necessary for the practical implementation of UBS
  • UBS startup requires some increase in real costs that need to be financed before the labour market effects that could reduce those costs are activated
  • UBS may be an inefficient method to cover the personal and necessarily individual living costs associated with needs such as toiletries, requiring any UBS to be supplemented by some form of cash transfers or credit system that can be used by citizens to satisfy personally specific living costs. This component could be delivered as a form of basic income, as modelled in the UCL report,[2] albeit at the low end of the scale within which basic income distributions are commonly proposed.


  1. ^ Coyle, Diane. "Universal basic services are more important than income". Financial Times. Financial Times. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Moore, Portes, Reed, Percy. "Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services". IGP. IGP UCL. Retrieved 4 December 2017.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ McDonnell, John. "John McDonnell response to the Institute for Global Prosperity's report on Universal Basic Services". Labour Party. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  4. ^ McDonnell, John. "The new economics of Labour". Open Democracy. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  5. ^ Unger, Roberto. "Freedom, Equality and a Future Political Economy: the structural change we need - Unger at RSA 2013". RSA. RSA. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  6. ^ "The challenge". Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  7. ^ Randle, Kippin. "Beyond Nudge to Demand Management". RSA. RSA LGA. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  8. ^ a b Adams, Paul. "Social Control or Social Wage: On the Political Economy of the Welfare State". ScholarWorks at WMU. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  9. ^ Fisher, Impink. "The socioeconomic stakes of transit". The Brookings Institution. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  10. ^ https://seriouslydifferent.org/igp-stories/getting-beyond-the-economy-a-journey-with-extinction-rebellion