What role for a modest participation income?

It is possible to build upon existing parental, study or care leave schemes and integrate them, jointly with tax credits for the employed, into a universal basic income subjected to a very broad condition of social contribution, as proposed for example by Anthony Atkinson (1993a, 1993b, 1996, 1998) under the label “participation income”. “In order to secure political support”, Atkinson (1993a) argues, “it may be necessary for the proponents of basic income to compromise. To compromise not on the principle that there is no means test, nor on the principle of independence [i.e., the idea that no one should be directly dependent on any particular person or group], but on the unconditional payment”. A participation income would be a non-means-tested allowance paid to every person who actively participates in economic activity, whether paid or unpaid. Persons who care for young or elderly persons, undertake approved voluntary work or training, or are disabled due to sickness or handicap, would also be eligible for it. After a while, one may well realise that paying controllers to try to catch the few really work-shy would cost more, and create more resentment all over than just giving this modest floor income to all, no questions asked. But in the meanwhile the participation income will have politically bootstrapped a universal basic income into position. Compared to the income-tax-reform approach and the social-assistance-reform approach, this third approach would be particularly appropriate if some specific funding were set aside for basic income: a tax on energy consumption, or a dividend on some public asset, or simply some broadly based levy on the national product. But it could also be combined with either of the first two approaches.