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Case for a ‘benefit’ that would go to all

02 December 2016

Peter Selby on social policy for the future

Citizen’s Basic Income: A Christian social policy

Malcolm Torry
DLT £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9


MALCOLM TORRY has written a wide range of books in the area of faith and society, and writes accessibly and persuasively. When it comes to the proposal for a citizen’s basic income (CBI), he is particularly qualified in the range of his reading and reflection, and passionate in his conviction that it represents a vital policy-initiative that Christians should support.

So, if you want to read the strongest statement of what a CBI would offer, one backed by wide reading reflected in a useful bibliography (an index might also have been helpful), this book would be an excellent place to go — and you won’t have to spend much of your income to buy it.

There’s more here as well. Torry is concerned to make the particular case for Christians as such to be engaged in this debate and to know what are the fundamentals of Christian faith which would lead them to support a CBI as an instrument of social policy.

To do that, and after introducing the notion of a CBI, he produces 19 short chapters with titles meant to excite the Christian appetite for this change. Some examples are: “CBI would celebrate God-given abundance”, “CBI would recognise God’s equal treatment of us”, “CBI would understand both our original righteousness and our original corruption” and “CBI would both relativise and enhance the family”. The chapters are full of biblical material and theological reasoning.

It is inevitable that such an enterprise — of making connections between doctrines of the faith and its ethical demands to a very specific proposal for social policy — that a reader may find some of the arguments more persuasive than others, and that some of the most challenging questions a reader might have are not as fully addressed as they need to be.

This difficulty is, perhaps, epitomised by the chapter “Paying for CBI”. That is, in fact, making the argument for a changed attitude to taxation made possible by a CBI policy; and that will encounter one of the most pressing political questions, namely, how is a taxation system to be both just and seen to be just, and what is the connection between justice and fairness? Maybe somewhat fewer arguments would have allowed space to examine some of the tough questions, and so made a stronger case.

This is a powerful and well-thought-out commendation of a policy that certainly needs more positive attention than it seems likely to receive in the present climate; but working at unfashionable projects is especially important at such times; after all, fashions, including well-entrenched political ones, do change, and we need such well-informed proposals to give us a vision for a different and more hospitable future.


The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby is a former Bishop of Worcester.

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