Leeds becomes largest city in UK to call for universal basic income pilot

By: Jon Stone. —

Leeds has become the largest city in the UK to call for a universal basic income to be trialled, after a vote of the city’s council on Wednesday night.

Councillors from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Greens backed a motion on Thursday arguing that the policy could provide financial security to people hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

A universal basic income or UBI involves a flat unconditional payment to all citizens whether they are working or not, instead of means-tested benefits. The policy has been widely discussed across the developed world in recent years, and has gained new prominence during the coronavirus pandemic.

The most high-profile trial so far took place in Finland, where a two-year study found that those involved were happier and had greater wellbeing, in addition to being no less likely to get jobs.  

Following the vote, Leeds City Council officers will now write to the government asking for a pilot scheme to take place in the city.

But Conservatives councillors in the city opposed the plan, with one saying it should be “consigned to the dustbin”.

The west Yorkshire city joins Sheffield, which backed a trial last year, and Liverpool the year before. This year Hull, Norwich and Belfast are among councils that have voted for pilot studies in their areas.

Leeds Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Bentley, said: “The Covid pandemic has caused immense financial and social hardship to thousands of residents and families in Leeds. This will only get worse. 

“The current overly complicated, means-tested benefits system is inadequate to deal with the effects of a declining economy and increased unemployment. To achieve a fair recovery it is time for new thinking. “A Universal Basic Income will have the twin effects of offering protection from poverty for all our citizens and a boost to our economy for our future prosperity.”

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the coronavirus pandemic had shown that the welfare system was “broken”, adding: “UBI is a hugely powerful tool that will allow us to address this issue, along with many other emerging challenges such as automation and changing work patterns. I am fully committed to campaigning for a UBI that will give everyone the support they deserve and the opportunities they need.” 

Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “Universal Basic Income is an idea whose time has come. The coronavirus crisis has shown that we need to mend the social security net for the decades ahead, helping us to build back a greener, fairer economy. This can be our generation’s NHS, and it’s amazing to see Greens in Leeds leading the way.”

The government does not support exploring the idea of a universal basic income, and ministers have gone on record say they do not support the policy.

Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently argued that the policy would be a disincentive for people to work during the pandemic.

The Green party has long backed the policy, while Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has also called for one, arguing that payments should be funded by creating a national investment fund and distributing the proceeds to the population.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has also said the policy should be explored in pilot form. 

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