The concept of a universal basic income is of long-standing and argues for an unconditional transfer paid to everyone by the state, in place of large parts of the existing social protection system. Advocates of the approach argue that it would remove the need for complex means-testing for benefit receipts; allow for a greater flexibility in managing work, family and other responsibilities; provide a degree of income security in fast-moving labour markets; and address inequality.
However modelling research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warns that a universal basic income scheme would require large tax increases, provide less effective supports for the poor and result in a large number of people gaining and losing from its introduction.
There are different models of basic income so the cost of introducing a universal basic income for all citizens would vary significantly depending on the specific design.
The tax and social welfare system in Ireland is continually reviewed, in the budgetary process and otherwise, in terms of its impact in redistributing income while ensuring the maintenance of incentives for people to contribute to society through employment. In addition, the National Minimum Wage, which sets the legally-binding lowest average hourly rate that can be paid by an employer to an employee, applies to all employees, including full-time, part-time, temporary and casual employees (with some exceptions).
The Low Pay Commission takes an evidence based approach when considering its recommendation to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection each year and the Government has consistently implemented these recommendations. Since the establishment of the Low Pay Commission in 2015 it has increased on an annual basis, rising from €8.65 per hour to the current rate of €9.80 per hour from 1 January 2019.
When considering the National Minimum Wage rate, the primary aim of the Low Pay Commission is to have a minimum wage that provides an incentive to work, is set at a rate that is both fair and sustainable, and helps as many people as possible, without a significant adverse effect on competitiveness or a significant negative effect on employment.
The Department is aware that limited experiments with what might be referred to as “partial” basic income approaches are underway or planned in other countries and we will follow the outcome of these experiments to see if they provide any lessons that might be applied to aspects of the Irish system.