How much does a person need to live? And how much does it cost – materially and psychologically, in terms of the immediate present and future possibilities – to be poor? The Cost of Living makes no delay in jumping into these questions. The Manchester-based Gadfly Productions quite aptly raised some of the capital for their latest documentary through crowdfunding, and directors Sean Blacknell and Wayne Walsh draw on a variety of voices and experiences to examine modern Britain’s crisis of austerity and widening wealth gap.

The focus of the film is the application of Universal Basic Income (UBI) – a concept applied in various trials and forms around the world, but widely dismissed as unfeasible to finance. With a fifty-minute run time, sticking to one potential ameliorator proves a wise move, but there is nonetheless a sense of stalling or deflection whenever the documentary approaches what such a model might look like now. A variety of facts and perspectives are presented – from UBI’s potential to take stress of stretched mental health services by giving people greater security, to mythbusting arguments around inflation and idleness – but each presenter in turn dismisses UBI as impossible in our current state.

This may be true, but repeated assertions of decades of systemic dismantling grow disheartening, backed by the same doleful piano score, talking heads, and archive footage. While raising taxes and taxing corporations is highlighted as essential to structure UBI, suggestions of other actions and options – such as corporate bailouts – are unimaginatively absent.

It may be a wise and measured move not to present a solution in less than an hour, but The Cost of Living plays too safe a world where the current government almost did not extend free school meals to Britain’s poorest children. Nevertheless, it starts a vital conversation that is long overdue.



DIRECTORS: Sean Blacknell, Wayne Walsh

WRITERS: Sean Blacknell, Wayne Walsh

SYNOPSIS: It costs a lot – materially and emotionally – to live in modern Britain; this documentary examines the possibilities of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).