On the definition of Unconditional Basic Income

The German Basic Income Network (Netzwerk Grundeinkommen) has defined four criteria for UBI, and the international BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network) has defined five.

The regional UBI Initiative Rhein-Main (Germany, founded in 2015) has agreed however upon twelve criteria as a result of years of activism and numerous discussions with supporters and opponents of UBI. The four criteria of the German UBI Network and the five of BIEN are included in that definition, but have been amended and specified.


UBI is an income that fulfils the following twelve criteria:
1. It is universal – everyone has entitlement without means-testing.
This is the only way to reach all those in need. Means-testing is a hurdle for people who may fail the bureaucratic procedures or who might not claim benefits to which they are entitled out of ignorance and/or shame. The UBI is a human right, or rather an implementation of human rights, especially the right to life. Human rights apply to everyone, including the rich. The UBI recognizes that we humans are basically all needy, and dependent on the community. This ends the stigmatization of benefit recipients.
Moreover, the UBI is not offset against other income, e.g. from work. As a result, taking up gainful employment is always worthwhile and for everyone – in contrast to the situation in means-tested systems, where earned income leads to a reduction in need and thus to a reduction in social benefits. (The French basic income movement has included “cumulative” as a separate item in its UBI definition.)


2. It is individual, and doesn’t depend on age, whether married or not, or if living in a household alone or with others.
The individual is the bearer of dignity and the smallest unit of democracy. Tying social benefits to households, as today’s social systems do, promotes isolation because there is significantly more money for single households than for communities, which makes neither social nor ecological sense. Moreover, power relationships are perpetuated within these communities; one head of household gets the money and thus power over others.
For minors and people who have a guardian (e.g. the severely disabled), the UBI must be paid to their guardian(s).


3. It secures livelihood and societal participation; it makes it possible to lead a modest life in dignity.
The UBI should make a life beyond gainful employment possible. There is a huge amount of socially necessary work that is not paid for and should not be paid for, or that cannot be meaningfully forced into the form of gainful employment: care work, democratic work, creative work. Those who take up this work must not have to continue to live in poverty and existential fear. Taking care of others as well as working to address social problems holds our society together. Neglecting these tasks, which are traditionally often done by women, has high financial costs, institutional costs (e.g. prisons and psychiatric care), environmental costs, and costs to our future quality of life.
Only if the UBI guarantees is a living wage, can workers negotiate on an equal footing with their employers and get a fair wage for the work they do (the same applies to self-employed people in negotiations with their customers/clients).


4. It is unconditional, i.e. it is granted without any work requirement or willingness to work; it is not a wage.
The UBI is, a human right, from the cradle to the grave. It is therefore not possible to attach conditions to it, such as the willingness to work. Of course, one can formulate a moral claim that all people should contribute to the general welfare within the scope of their possibilities. However, there is neither an objective definition of “common good” nor an infallible authority that could determine such. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to objectively assess each person’s ability to work. Therefore, either way, we humans are “doomed to freedom” to figure out for ourselves where and how we can contribute to society.
And even if there should be people who cannot or/and do not want to contribute at all: they too have a right to exist. To that extent the UBI also means a “right to laziness”.
(The German Basic Income Network has this criterion in its definition, but BIEN does not).


5. Payments are made at regular intervals, for instance monthly – not as a one-off grant.
There are repeated proposals for a “basic endowment,” a one-time payment, e.g., upon reaching the age of majority. Thomas Paine also proposed a so-called “basic endowment” in 1798.
These proposals may be interesting, but they cannot replace a UBI, because only this guarantees existence and social participation in the long run. One-time payments can be lost through misinvestment, inflation, etc., the UBI cannot.
(The German network does not have this criterion in it’s definition, BIEN however does).


6. It is paid in a legal tender, neither in vouchers or in-kind, nor in the fiat money of the commercial banks. We strongly support the introduction of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) without the abolition of hard cash.
The point with basic income is that you can buy what you need with it. Vouchers or free food distribution deprive their recipients of this choice. For this reason, the international network BIEN has the criterion “It is paid in an appropriate medium of exchange” in its definition (the German network does not). But there is also a problem with our money, namely non-cash book money (which has a much larger share in our payment transactions than legal tender: euro banknotes and coins). This is not legal tender, but only a promise of legal tender by the commercial banks. That makes our monetary system unstable and outside democratic control. The money creation of the commercial banks takes place when loans are granted, according to business criteria and procyclically. There is a risk of a bank run, and while the banks and their owners fill their own pockets with profits, they have to be rescued by taxpayers in the event of a crisis, because otherwise payment transaction systems would collapse. It is possible, however, to introduce a public electronic means of payment which, in terms of handling for economic participants, would not differ significantly from today’s giro money, but which, as legal tender, would be free of the aforementioned disadvantages of the commercial banks’ book money. Since the UBI depends on a stable monetary system, we cannot avoid taking up this demand and to strive for a strategic alliance with the representatives of the so-called sovereign money ( and (The Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies FRIBIS has also already formed a team for this purpose).


7. It’s amount (as well as it’s introduction) is decided upon in periodic referenda.
The UBI represents a paradigm shift in social systems. For the first time, it puts people at the center. On the other hand, it also entails a considerable financing effort. For these reasons, the decision in favour of a UBI should be preceded by the broadest possible social debate where every person (every member of the community) should have a say. This can only be achieved by direct democracy as we already know it on the state and municipal level (in Germany) and abroad (e.g. Switzerland).
In addition, there is no objectively correct amount of a UBI. How much money a person needs for a dignified life is a normative decision; there will certainly be different opinions on this. For this reason, the population must decide on the level of the UBI; no expert commission can take that away from us. Some UBI skeptics express the fear that the political elites (parliamentarians, governments with parliamentary majority) can tighten the thumbscrews on the population at any time by lowering the UBI below the subsistence level – or, on the contrary, hand out abundant gifts in the form of an excessively high UBI during election campaigns. These fears cannot be entirely dismissed, which is why the decision on the level of the basic income belongs in the hands of those who will also have to pay for it: namely, the entire population.
In Germany, the association Mehr Demokratie e.V. (More Democracy) is committed to the introduction of direct democracy at the federal level, as well as Democracy International on an international level with which groups the basic income movement should therefore form an alliance. Finally, it should be noted that the UBI is also needed for Direct Democracy (not only vice versa), because citizens must have the freedom and leisure to inform themselves politically and to help shape the community. The UBI belongs to direct democracy like parliamentary salaries belong to parliamentarism.


8. The amount is the same for everybody, without discrimination according to age or place of residence.
There are some models of a UBI that provide for a graduated payment according to age, especially a low UBI for minors. However, it makes more sense to keep the payment the same for all recipients. First, the UBI follows the idea of the equality (not equivalence) of all people. Second, it is rather arbitrary to set different levels for different ages. Third, it would make a regular referendum on the amount difficult if not impossible to manage. In addition, there are presently discounts of all kinds for children, i.e. entrance fees, public transport, etc.), which could be abolished after the introduction of the UBI.
Sometimes there are also calls for adjusting the UBI to different regional price levels. This is to be rejected, firstly because of the equal value of all people, and secondly because it would entail completely arbitrary demarcations and a control effort as well as a massive supervisory burden, which is precisely what the UBI should abolish. Moreover, the UBI promotes the equalization of living conditions and it is the precise wish that it flushes more money into structurally weak regions. This would put an end to the concentration of people and capital in metropolitan areas and thus to the grotesque situation of, on the one hand, housing shortages (in boom regions) and vacancies (in structurally weak areas) with their ecological and social consequences.


9. It is accompanied by social benefits that cover individual additional needs, e.g. in case of disability, and also temporarliy in case of increased housing costs.
The UBI should not and cannot replace the entire social system, as some UBI skeptics fear. It can be a foundation that supports most people, but there must be additional benefits for some who need more, because of disability or chronic illness, for example. This is so important that it belongs in the definition of the UBI, because not adding it creates serious and also tragic misunderstandings with people who care about the social security of the population.
There is also the fact that in an initial phase the UBI will probably not yet be high enough for everyone, this is simply due to different price levels. For this time, there must also be additional benefits for people whose housing costs are exceptionally high, these can then be gradually and appropriately reduced over the years.


10. In the mid-term it will be introduced worldwide, in the short-term at the highest level at which the administrative requirements for it are met (i.e. nationally or e.g. in the European Union).
The UBI is a human right, which means that it must be realized for all people worldwide. This can be justified on humanitarian grounds, but it is also of course about ending poverty driven migration. There are serious global problems such as climate change and species extinction. We will only be able to solve them if we as humanity remember that we have to cooperate instead of considering each other as economic or/and military competitors. This is where a global UBI comes into play, making the value of solidarity directly tangible for all people.
To this end, there can be alliances with political developmental organizations and their German umbrella organisation VENRO.
In the short term, the UBI is a project of the nation state or/and the European Union. The higher the level at which the UBI is implemented, the fewer the problems with migration and border effects. This does not exclude pilot projects at the municipal or state level.


11. It is accompanied by an appropriate regulatory and fiscal framework that ensures that the development of societal wealth does not destroy the balance of ecosystems and thus does not occur at the expense of the life chances of future generations.

The ecological balance must be considered in all UBI proposals. First, a UBI is no longer of any use if the planet, in the extreme case, has become uninhabitable. Second, because the UBI itself will, in all likelihood, lead to more consumption at first, which would be fatal for the environment in today’s socioeconomic system. We must therefore take care that this consumption does not translate into more environmental destruction. This would include regulations, as well as taxation of environmental consumption, including greenhouse gas emissions. In turn, this can generate funds to help finance a UBI, especially at the outset. Strategic partners here can be the environmental associations, insofar as they consider environmental and social issues together, especially the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
(The Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies has also formed a team for this purpose: UBI and Social-Ecological Transformation UBITrans)
Time and again, there are concepts that envisage BGE financing from the profits of environmentally harmful economic activity, e.g. from the exploitation of fossil fuels (See Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend). We reject such a concept.


12. It is financed in a way to reduce wealth inequality
Many people find large wealth disparities unfair. But they are above all a problem for democracy, because money means power and can buy political influence. The UBI redistributes money so that everyone has enough of it. It makes extreme sense to design the financing of a UBI in such a way that excessive wealth inequality is reduced at the same time. First, this is the only way to ensure social cohesion; second, the wealth tax/inheritance tax can be used to help finance the UBI.


More criteria?
Internationally, further criteria for a UBI are being discussed. The French basic income movement, for example, mentions ” non-negotiable ” (inaliénable) as a criterion [1], while BIEN discusses, amongst other things, the concept of “non-seizable” (as in no court or agency could seize someone’s Basic Income for the payment of fines, civil penalties, etc. See here.) In the worldwide UBI network, “uniform” is also being considered, in order to exclude arbitrary fluctuations in the level of a UBI. For the British organization Basic Income UK, the UBI should also be “non-taxable” (


Eric Manneschmidt, Frankfurt am Main, 12th of April 2023


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[1] Definition of Basic Income

“Basic income is an inalienable, unconditional right, cumulative with other income, distributed by a political community to all its members, from birth to death, on an individual basis, without means testing or counterpart requirements, whose amount and financing are democratically adjusted.”


Main characteristics :

  • Universal

All members of the community receive it, regardless of their income or employment status.

  • Unconditional

No consideration is required to receive it.

  • Individual

It is paid to each member of the household, regardless of the income of other members.

  • Permanent

Children are entitled to it too. For example, it could be paid to legal guardians until they reach the age of majority.

  • Inalienable

Universal income is a fundamental right for all citizens. Its beneficiaries cannot be deprived of it.

  • Cumulative

It can be added to any other income (salary, certain allowances…).

(translation: EM)


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