On a Citizen’s Income Scheme

The citizen’s income is an unconditional non-means-tested allowance paid individually to all citizens.

On the recommendation of Anthony Painter at the RSA, I took a look at a citizen’s income scheme proposed by the Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT). Their scheme covers most basic needs, but not housing costs or benefits paid because of disability. The CIT includes indicative costings, and claims that the scheme is broadly cost-neutral once tax changes are taken into account.

Housing costs are excluded because of their variability: a national flat-rate citizen’s income sufficient to support private-sector London rents would be far in excess of that needed elsewhere.

A key objective of the CIT scheme (as with most citizen’s income schemes) is to eliminate or greatly ease the poverty trap created by the sharp withdrawal of means-tested benefits as other income rises. The scheme I looked at does not meet this objective.

The CIT assumes that housing benefit and council tax support remain in situ – pretty much as they were in 2012 before the recent cuts. Both are means-tested. In broad terms, where income exceeds a claim specific amount, housing benefit is reduced by 65p for each additional pound of net income (gross income less tax/NI). Typically, 20p or more of council tax support is also withdrawn for each additional pound of net income.

Suppose I am a tenant responsible for rent and council tax. I have my citizen’s income, intended to cover my basic needs other than housing. I then receive means-tested housing benefit and council tax benefit on top. Because I don’t have any other income, my housing and council tax are covered in full.

I then get a part time job and my income goes up by £100 gross on which I pay £32 tax (employee’s national insurance is bundled into income tax in the CIT scheme, personal allowances are abolished.) This leaves me with £68.00. Assuming my housing benefit and council tax support are calculated as they were in 2012, my housing benefit is then reduced by 65% of this, i.e. by £44.20, and my council tax support by 20%, £13.60. Total deductions are £89.80, making me just £10.20 better off. This compares rather poorly with universal credit (plus the separate council tax reduction), and is little different to the pre-universal credit schemes.

What would it take for the CIT scheme to eliminate the poverty trap?

You would need to pay everybody’s rent and council tax in full. Merely retaining housing and council tax support is insufficient.

Alternatively, fix the housing system so that everyone has access to well-maintained, secure and affordable housing.

Winners and losers

People with inherited property and modest trust funds would do well from the CIT scheme. Lone parent tenants in need of childcare would do very badly. Unlike the current system, the CIT scheme excludes:

  • support for childcare costs.
  • support for owner-occupier housing costs
  • additional amounts in means-tested benefits paid to people with disabilities or caring responsibilities

So if a CI scheme doesn’t spring the poverty trap, what’s the point?

Ultimately, the prospect of a decent life for all. But CI schemes conflate several different hopes:

  • reduced administrative costs
  • low marginal deduction rates (combined impact of lost benefit and increased tax as income rises) CIs are means-tested in practice, it just happens via income tax
  • removing couple penalties – all entitlements are individual
  • income redistribution (popular on the left)
  • payment in lieu of government provided services eg health (popular on the libertarian right)
  • removing conditionality (no need to sign on, look for work etc)

Payment in lieu of services appeals on the grounds of maximising personal autonomy, but once services are devolved to the person in this way, it’s much easier for them to be cut – reducing the CI is easier than sacking care workers, just as allowing a private steel company to go bust is easier for the state than eliminating part of a nationalised industry.

Reduced administrative costs are often cited as a major benefit of CI. Although there are savings to made, I suspect they’re commonly exaggerated. Many schemes will bring more people into the tax system. Any scheme which keeps separate housing benefits and benefits for people with disabilities (as in the CIT scheme), will equally keep much of the administrative cost. The Green Party’s CI scheme includes an additional £80.00 for lone parents, rightly acknowledging the additional costs of single parenthood. But adding it to the scheme means that there now has to be a bureaucracy determining the status of single parents – and pairs of single parents who become one family will lose £160 per week.

Removing or significantly reducing conditionality is perhaps the most immediately achievable goal – though it goes against the prevailing establishment view that being poor is a condition deserving of punishment in itself.


Dr Malcom Torry from the CIT has kindly forwarded me some new intermediate CI schemes developed by the trust. These retain much of the existing benefits system – and therefore much of its complexity, but usefully discuss how progress might be made towards a citizen’s income in the short to medium term.

4 thoughts on “On a Citizen’s Income Scheme

  1. Malcolm Torry, Director, Citizen's Income Trust

    Gareth Morgan has alerted me to your blog post of last January.
    The debate has moved on since our 2013 illustrative scheme, largely because we’ve had access to EUROMOD which has enabled us to research a broader range of illustrative schemes, and particularly schemes that retain and recalculate means-tested benefits at the point of implementation: https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/research/publications/working-papers/euromod/em6-15. You will find our 2015 introductory booklet here: http://www.citizensincome.org/filelibrary/Booklet2015.pdf.
    All of the schemes that we have researched assume revenue neutrality. It is this constraint which results in the existence of a trade-off between preventing household losses at the point of implementation and ameliorating the poverty trap. Scheme B in the ISER paper (link above) keeps household disposable incomes quite close to their previous levels on the implementation of a Citizen’s Income, and can therefore not do as much about the poverty trap as we would like to do, but for many households the advantages would be considerable, particularly in relation to second earners (whose poverty traps will remain deep under Universal Credit). With a relatively small Citizen’s Income of £50 per week for working age adults (and a Child Citizen’s Income above current Child Benefit rates), every family will be on smaller amounts of means-tested benefits and with a somewhat lower marginal deduction rate and so will be more able to earn their out of poverty. Even a small Citizen’s Income would deliver numerous additional advantages over our current system (see my recent ‘101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income’ (Policy Press, 2015). So even quite a small Citizen’s Income would be worth implementing.
    You might be interested to know that my next book, ‘The Feasibility of Citizen’s Income’, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan next year.
    Happy to discuss.
    Many thanks for your interest in the Citizen’s Income debate
    Malcolm Torry
    Dr. Malcolm Torry, Director, Citizen’s Income Trust, and Senior Visiting Fellow, Social Policy Department, London School of Economics

    1. lampfrey Post author

      Hi Malcolm,

      I’ll take a look at your new scheme when I get some free time. I do appreciate the considerable efforts the CIT have been putting into integrating a CI into the world as we find it.


  2. TickyW


    How much additional cost to the tax payer do you believe contingent, non-means tested benefits for disability and for child rearing would there be compared to the cost of those same benefits that are currently means tested. I ask this because the attractiveness and feasibility of basic income depends in part on the answer to this question.

    Also, I note you lump NICs together with income tax, something I am loathe to do because they are different beasts. Under many basic income schemes personal allowances are withdrawn to help fund the scheme. Suppose instead only the NI threshold was scrapped but a tax free threshold was retained for income tax? This would mean entrants to the job market were “taxed” at just 12% of their market incomes up to the income tax threshold – a very nice withdrawal rate if a basic income sheme was in place. It would mean new entrants would accrue state pension rights from the get-go, something which would not happen currently for low market incomes.

  3. lampfrey Post author

    Very roughly about £60 billion – about £50 billion from child support* and perhaps £10 billion ** (much less certain) for disablement related means-tested benefits.

    You get much much less from zeroing the NI threshold than you do from a zero tax threshold (unless you zero it for employers too). Either way you have the headache of bringing in assessment for lots of people with very low incomes. I’m not sure about the relevance of qualifying for a state pension in basic income land. In a better world I would merge NI and income tax, but I guess it’s politically infeasible.

    * about 12 million children X roughly £70 per week support less about 35 billion in child tax credit and child benefit currently paid.

    ** it would be quite complicated to dig this out, not least because there are questions of attribution when you means test a benefit which is partly disability related and partly not.


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