What is basic income?

A basic income is a periodic, unconditional cash payment sent to individuals from the government. It ensures everyone can meet their basic needs and live with dignity regardless of their work status. Different names are used to describe key characteristics of basic income, including a Basic Income Guarantee, a Citizen’s Income, a Guaranteed Annual Income, a Guaranteed Adequate Income, a Livable Income, a Guaranteed Livable Income, a Universal Basic Income — and many others. These names tend to focus on who should receive a basic income and how much income is needed.

Universal Basic Income

The term Universal Basic Income (UBI) can sometimes describe a program that provides an unconditional income to a very broad group of people, such as all citizens, or all adults, or all residents, regardless of their income level (known as a demogrant). UBI can also describe a basic income that is available to everyone, but is only delivered to those whose income falls below a defined level (known as a guarantee).

Basic Income Guarantee

Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) is a type of UBI that is universally available but is only provided to those who need it. A BIG is an income floor beneath everyone’s feet that eliminates the risk of falling into poverty should disaster strike — from a flood, fire, drought, pandemic or job loss from technological disruptions that force people out of one job and to retrain for another.

Livable income

Some prefer to describe basic income as a livable income, to convey that the amount of income an individual needs to live in dignity and security is greater than what is needed to simply meet minimum basic needs. A livable income should be enough to provide for a nutritious diet, housing, transportation, clothing, communications and other goods and services, and be enough to allow for some discretionary spending, savings for emergencies, and for full participation in community life. 

Background reading