Modernising the UK Social Security System should aim to simplify and make more user friendly its operation, better integrate its multiple components and improve its flexibility and responsiveness in the face of future emergencies. Key building blocks needed to provide a foundation for the modernisation plan’s progressive implementation are to: (a) introduce a standard benefit ID number for all UK citizens and long term residents entitled to receive benefits; (b) use this benefit ID number as the primary identification number for individuals on public data bases used for paying social security benefits; (c) ) require all adults to have bank accounts into which any benefit entitlements would be paid; and (d) when the above three steps are in place, introduce a limited Universal Basic Income system under which all adults of 18 and over would be entitled to a basic income when they are not in paid employment, in full-time higher education or receiving a state pension. These steps are further explained below.
Benefit ID Numbers. A unique benefit identification (BID) number would be assigned to each citizen at birth and recorded in the Somerset House registry. Long term residents and naturalised citizens would be assigned a BID number when their status and entitlement to benefits are approved. Existing adults and their dependent children would need to apply to Somerset House giving their birth details and current addresses so that BID numbers can be assigned and details sent to them.
Using the BID numbers on Benefit Data Bases. The records for each individual would be filed on public data bases that are concerned with paying social security financial benefits using or cross-referencing that individuals BID number. This would include the HMRC, income support, housing and supplemental benefit registries, local government social services and work and pensions registries. This will facilitate digitisation and cross communication and integration of records as needed. Safeguards would be introduced to prevent unauthorised access to personal records.
Bank Accounts. To facilitate rapid and, when appropriate, automatic payment of benefits, all adult beneficiaries would be required to have a bank account whose paying in details would be made available to HMRC and relevant benefit agencies. If necessary, for those not able to manage accounts on-line, banks would be encouraged to offer simple, cost free, debit card operated accounts whose basic operations could be managed using cash machines. Again, appropriate privacy and security safeguards would need to be built in.
Universal Basic Income. Once the above steps are in place, a limited Universal Basic Income system could be introduced. All adults not in full time higher education or receiving a state pension would be entitled to receive a standard basic income. If they are not in paid employment this basic income would be paid directly to the individual’s bank account by HMRC. Employers would be required to notify HMRC of the date on which an individual’s employment starts and terminates and would take over responsibility for paying the basic income as part of the total wages to be paid to the employee. Thus, the basic income would take the place of job seekers allowance and be paid without delay to those who are or become unemployed as an entitlement without need for an application or proof of job seeking. The cost of introducing this limited Basic Income would depend on the level at which it is set. For example, if the Basic Income was set at £75.0 per week (the current level of job seekers allowance) and the amount of basic income paid were taken into account in assessing entitlements for supplementary benefits such as income support and housing benefit, the total additional cost of introducing the basic income should be quite manageable. At a later stage, and when public finances allow, basic income could be extended to cover adults in higher education also. This would help students defray living costs while at university and reduce the level of their eventual student debts which Government is effectively guaranteeing.