A Universal Basic Requirement is what government is for

I have suggested before that ‘Universal Basic Services’ were good things to have but I was brought up short by the the decline of services other than that of our well publicised NHS.

Libraries have been all but destroyed. On the hundredth anniversary year of free library creation this is worth repeating:

Perhaps most importantly, public libraries remind us of the importance of values fundamental to responsible citizenship – of quietly educating yourself and respecting others while you do it. The dismantling of the library service is not just a result of austerity, but of the shrinking importance of these values. And the consequences of that are obvious from the current state of our politics.

If we really want to remind citizens that there’s a public realm beyond their smartphones, an excellent first step would be to invest in our libraries. They deserve just as much love as the NHS.

But it is more and more apparent that those without access to this Universal Basic Resource have been most disadvantaged.

Then there is transport.

That is clearly another Universal Basic – a Universal Basic Requirement – for us all.

First there is Network Rail (NR) whose staff not only fly when it is cheaper– which clearly is not a fault in NR but a fault of their government remit, which requires them to do everything as frugally as possible.

Although most now understand that frugal actually means kind to the climate, it appears the government does not. The government should be prioritising climate change, not financial saving.

(The figures below are all from Professor Anand Menon’s Tedx talk.)

Whereas the average Londoner took 100 train journeys per year, Geordies took just six.

As a whole the British population takes ten times more bus journeys than train journeys. Yet over the past 5 years, 17,000 bus routes have been axed. Very, very few of these are in London, which until 2018 had an operating grant from the Department of Transport and still receives financial help for capital works.

Yet bus routes outside London, are expected to be financially viable and some local authorities offer little or no subsidy whatsoever to public transport.

The Bus Service Operators’ Grant (BSOG) is a fuel duty rebate paid directly to operators by central government. Commercial operators are also reimbursed by councils for journeys made under the English National Concessionary Transport Scheme.

The fact that the BSOG is tied to fuel duty means that its benefits accrue to operators irrespective of the wider social and economic benefits of a service – and it is paid even when a service would be profitable without it. It also acts as a direct disincentive to use the most fuel efficient technologies.

Still there is some hope that Manchester could become the first city outside London to seize control of buses since 1980s privatisation.

Meanwhile, for trains, the total subsidy to franchised train operators was 5.7 pence per passenger mile in 2015-16.

So the government thinks ‘trains r us’ but buses aren’t.

The electorate, in its activity, suggests otherwise.

Buses are the transport that is most obvious in our local communities. So I suggest they should be nurtured. We have also to nurture their type. Diesel, we have learnt, is far from the ideal transport fuel.

Being aware of that, the very least we should do is promote electric trains which is easily the most environmentally friendly mode of transport – what with their regenerative braking and all…

But of course Failing Grayling said we couldn’t afford electric trains beyond Cardiff to Swansea.

In fact we cannot afford not to have electric trains beyond Cardiff to Swansea.

And far from charging any sort of going rate we should be pricing in order to encourage mode switching – ie no flying, lots of walking and very limited motoring.

So not only are a form of Universal Basic Services desirable – they are in fact vital in order to take account of climate change.

So, after Universal Basic Income we can add: Services, Capital, Resource, and a Universal Basic Requirement that government policies should take account of climate change.

Can’t we?


  1. Chris Bergin -

    You might just as well say that the ‘social compact’ is broken. I think it has been wrecked deliberately. What they hope to achieve apart from wrecking’ the country and the future for their own offspring I have no idea.

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