Universal basic income only goes so far – free public services are essential too

Almost 37 years ago to the day, during the fiery aftermath of an early Margaret Thatcher budget, the prime minister was allegedly challenged to name just two economists who endorsed her agenda of cutting public spending in the midst of recession – a prescription that was otherwise sending waves through orthodox academic thinking. “Alan Walters, and Professor Patrick Minford,” she is said to have replied – before later remarking, “thank goodness they didn’t ask for three.”

The importance of those 1980s budgets feels a far cry from the subdued status of last week’s spring statement. But make no mistake, just as it was in the early 1980s, significant and structural economic reform is once again discernible on the UK’s political breeze – albeit currently blowing harder outside government than within.

The past week is a case in point. Either side of the spring statement, and among the Brexit-dominated bulletins, news about radical domestic policy ideas still managed to cut through. In fact, it punctuated the debate twice, with two seemingly similar but nonetheless differing proposals. If a future prime minister is ever inclined to deliver the most redistributive overhaul of the UK’s tax and welfare system since world war two, they would be able to pass the “name two economists” test on the strength of the past nine days alone.

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