Could Oxford be the testing ground for a monthly cash handout given to everyone, regardless of their income?
A Universal Basic Income (UBI) would provide everyone in the country with a regular fixed amount of money each money, regardless of whether or not they are already in work, to help them with the cost of living.
As Oxford City Council met on Monday night, it debated whether or not the city should apply to become a trial zone for UBI.
The Liberal Democrat councillor who proposed the scheme, Stef Garden, said UBI was an ‘old idea for a new era’, comparing it to the creation of the NHS after the Second World War.
In her motion, the councillor for Headington said UBI would provide every adult with ‘a fixed, regular and unconditional income to relieve some of the financial pressures facing households’.
She added: “It’s a monthly grant sufficient to contribute to the basic needs of food, shelter and education. It is a fair way of eliminating poverty, guaranteeing a minimum standard of living, and improving well-being.”
The Labour-run council’s deputy leader Ed Turner was sceptical about UBI.
He described himself as a ‘passionate supporter of universalism’ and said he did not think the UK benefits system was generous enough.
But he added that he did not think replacing the means-tested benefits system with a flat grant handed out to everyone was the solution.
Others on the Labour benches disagreed, with Richard Howlett describing it as ‘an idea for which the time has come’.
He added: “Coronavirus has shown us how people have been thrown into even starker poverty and how we need to tackle the immense inequality we hae been living with for so long.”
Councillor John Tanner also supported it, and said high earners who did not need UBI would see it taxed away from them.
Green councillor Dick Wolff said other Labour-run councils including Sheffield, Liverpool and Hull had given backing to trials for UBI from last year.
Lib Dem Andrew Gant said there had been many different proposals for basic income grants in the UK and across the world, but said the version his party were promoting would not replace benefits, but be given out on top of it.
Other councils which have called for UBI trials in the last few weeks include Norwich and Cardiff.
One of Oxfords MPs, Layla Moran, has also previously called for UBI to be trialled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Scotland, four councils are researching the feasibility of carrying out a UBI pilot.
Earlier this year, a YouGov poll on radical economic policies found that 52 per cent of the UK public would support UBI.
The council voted by majority in favour of the plans, with 27 in favour, 11 against and three abstaining, and agreed that it would write to the Government and ask it to ‘consider Oxford for a pilot study’.
However, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman told the Oxford Mail yesterday: “There are no plans to introduce a universal basic income.
“It would not target those most in need in society or work for those who need more support, such as disabled people and those with caring responsibilities.”