Examining the environmental implications of basic income: understanding contributions to climate resilience and impacts on material consumption

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences


Research Question
What are the environmental implications of a basic income?
a) How does basic income contribute to environmental resilience?
b) What impact does a basic income have on the scale and composition of recipients' consumption? (Global North focus)
Basic income (BI) is a periodic cash payment delivered unconditionally and individually to all people (BIEN n.d.). It has gained traction as a policy in recent years, including within de-growth discussions, particularly as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. BI has been described as the "single most effective way to reduce poverty" and "smooth out gross levels of inequality" and could contribute to relieving pressure on infinite economic growth (2017).
Advocates of BI point to social benefits: advancing gender equality through recognition of reproductive work, eliminating welfare stigma, streamlining welfare bureaucracies, and increasing freedom (e.g. Standing 2017, Van Parijs 1997, Weeks, 2011, Widerquist 2013). Many of these claims have been supported by trials which have taken place in contexts as disparate as Finland, Kenya and India (see Give Directly 2019, Davala et al 2015). However, despite attracting support from green parties and de-growth advocates since at least the 1970s, there is a striking lack of empirical work examining the environmental implications of BI (MacNeill and Vibert, 2019).
Theoretically, BI could increase environmental resilience by reducing poverty as a key driver. It could also reduce sub-drivers of vulnerability, such as inadequate education or healthcare. BI could also form part of the transition to a post-growth economy by facilitating more time-intensive, low-resource wellbeing and providing people with the means to exclude themselves from the capitalist hyper-consumption model. Alternatively, BI could facilitate increased consumer spending and material consumption. MacNeill and Vibert argue the environmental implications of BI will be dependent on its implementation - i.e. the development of "green" BI programmes (2019).
Work Plan
Year One will centre around developing research skills through an MRes International Development at the University of Bath. I will also begin planning research on BI and environmental resilience using the University of Bath's WorkFree programme as a case study. I will complement this with further case studies in West Bengal and Odisha, led by Sarath Davala of the India Network for Basic Income.
I will continue my engagement with WorkFree in Year 2 and begin planning my research on BI and changing material consumption. I will analyse data from European BI trials, including in Germany, Spain and Finland, alongside those provisionally proposed in the UK. This will also allow me to connect with international academic institutions in these countries.
Years 3 and 4 will involve further data analysis and write-up / dissemination of findings.
The research will be multi-method; combining surveys, interviews, focus groups and ethnographic observation, as well as quantitative data analysis. In keeping with WorkFree, I will take a participatory approach to my research with the indicators for resilience being created in collaboration with BI recipients themselves.
Importance for Social Science and Policy
Efforts to tackle environmental crises need to be bold, far-reaching and transformative. BI holds attraction precisely because it is each of these. Yet to date only a handful of researchers have brought these two subjects together and none has empirically investigated the viability of the one as a strategy for mitigating the other. This project promises to break new academic ground by shedding light on whether and how BI can contribute to the fight against climate and other environmental crises.

As mentioned above, OFA to Dhaka and Hyderabad may be sought.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2381326 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/09/2024 Nicholas Langridge