Universal Basic Income is the idea that everyone receives some basic income so that poverty and inequality can be prevented, especially in cases of market failures and automation.
No. It is intended to prevent extreme poverty, as in "starving to death", but it's not intended to prevent "mild" poverty in the sense of "choices significantly reduced due to lack of funds", and it certainly is not intended to prevent inequality. Inequality would be reduced somewhat, since it would create a floor for income, but that reduces inequality only on the lower end of the range. It would still leave the separation between lower middle class, upper middle class, and upper class. The idea is that everyone would get enough for bare necessities, but if they want more, they have to work for it.
Although I like this idea, would it not be better to satisfy everyone's basic needs as opposed to offering them an income?
That is exactly the idea that UBI is intended to replace. Currently there are two major paradigms:
Capitalism without an net: The government takes a hands off approach. Everyone is free to live as they please. Proponents argue that this promotes efficiency, as people know what is best for them better than the government does.
Safety net administered by the government: The government engages in wealth distribution. It takes money from the rich, and spends it on programs for the poor. But instead of letting the poor decide how the money is spent, government bureaucrats decide what's best for them.
The first is criticized as heartless: those who aren't able to find financially remunerative employment are left out in the cold. The second is criticized as patronizing and inefficient: the government decides for the poor what they need, and if the poor have something they would enjoy spending the money on more, too bad. It means that allocation of resources will be based not on what people in general want, but on what government elites decide. It also means that resources will be diverted towards working around the restrictions: black market for food stamps, avoiding employment if it puts one above the threshold for a benefit, etc.
UBI is proposed as a third way that provides a safety net while letting recipients decide how the resources should be spent. Some people will be willing to live in cramped dorm rooms in exchange for a college education, while others would prefer to spend their money on a large house. With UBI, individuals will decide which gives them more utility, rather than the government making a one-size-fits all decision. It's "capitalist welfare": people get financial support, but the market decides how that support is allocated.
I mean, many countries already do that for healthcare and education, and it seems equally achievable for food (e.g. a limited free quota of food from designated general stores in your area for every person per month)
Just how specific will it be? Will it be a specific amount of potatoes, a specific amount of meat, etc.? Will it be even more specific: such-and-such amount of Russet potatoes, such-and-such of red potatoes, such-and-such of organic chicken thighs, etc.? Or will people be able to decide that they want chicken breasts rather than thighs? Will they be able to decide that they're willing to get non-organic chicken if they get more of it? Will they be able to decide that they want roast beef instead? How will you decide how much chicken rations someone has to give up to get a roast beef ration? Will you establish an exchange ratio? Maybe have some unit of measure, and give each ration a value in terms of that unit? There's a word for that: money. Either you're just handing out a specific basket (literal or figurative) of food, and everyone gets the exact same food (and wastes a lot of time establishing a black market trading each for the food that they prefer) or you have a complicated system of options that does what money does, except worse, or you just hand people money and let them buy whatever they want.
This one is even worse, because you can't give everyone exactly the same housing. Some housing is going to be valued more than others, and how do you decide who gets what?
It will directly target the problem. The problem is poverty.
Since poverty is lack of money, isn't directly targeting it giving people money?
We want to ensure a minimum standard of living.
If you decide the minimum standard of living is X, and you give everyone X, then everyone will have exactly X worth of value. If you give people enough money to buy X, then people can get more than X worth of value: if there's something that they value more than X, but costs the same, then they can buy that instead. So it's a choice between exactly X (your plan) or at least X (UBI).
Why not offer people those services and needs that ensure that standard of living, rather than just giving them a sum of money and hope they spend it wisely?
Why is the government a better judge of what is "wise" than the actual people that it's for?
Otherwise, we risk people misspending the money.
That raises the question of just what it means to "misspend" money. Is it spending it on something they will get less utility out of? If so, how do we decide how much utility someone is getting from something? Should the government be in the position of deciding for people how much value they are getting out of things?
It will be cheaper. This is obvious: by focusing on specific needs, you can streamline the delivery of those needs, and thereby achieve a cheaper and more efficient allocation of those ressources.
No, it's not "obvious". First of all, what does it even mean to be "cheaper"? Do you mean "I have a particular vision of exactly what everyone should have, and the amount of money it would take to give this to everyone is less than the amount of money we would have to give to everyone before everyone buys this"? Then yeah, it would be cheaper. But if you mean "Given some amount of UBI, we could spend less money and have people get the same amount of value by giving people specific stuff", then that is less obviously true, and again relies on there being an objective measure of "value". If you give everyone the same stuff, regardless of their preferences, you're going to be diverting resources to things people don't want.
It doesn't distort incentives. If only basic needs are covered for, if a person in the society wants to do something that goes beyond those needs (like eat at a fancy restaurant or buy a diamond ring), then they still have to work for it.
That's how UBI works. Other than really utopian versions, UBI proponents aren't proposing we give everyone enough money to eat at a fancy restaurant every night.