Universal basic income: Wales’ trial ‘should include everyone’

The real test of a “real” universal basic income needs to include everyone. Can this approach survive the scrutiny that is sure to come?

By: Stephen Fairclough.

UBI pays everyone a fixed sum, regardless of their circumstances.

The Welsh government has said its small trial could involve people leaving the care system.

In an open letter to the first minister, signatories, including the future generations commissioner, said it needed to cover geographical areas for it to be an effective test.

Trials have taken place in Finland and California, with a 12-year project running in Kenya.

Critics argue it would be better to invest in better public services or existing benefits and point to the cost of applying a scheme across a whole country.

But in their letter, supporters said the welfare system was “not fit for purpose”.

They said specific geographical areas, such as council wards, should be used alongside the proposals for those leaving care.

In that way, they argue, the potential benefits and pitfalls could be assessed.

Some high profile celebrities, including billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk, have backed the idea, while the UK Labour Party said it would explore a pilot of UBI in its 2019 general election manifesto.

‘Horrible, horrible situation’

Phillip Easton lives in Penrhiwceiber, Rhondda Cynon Taf, an area with high rates of child poverty.

He runs a business selling hot chocolate, but when he was setting it up, he had a stroke.

He said the security blanket of UBI would have made a real difference.

“During that time, because I was doing little things, I was not able to claim universal credit, but I was in a horrible, horrible situation back then and if I could have just taken that time at the beginning of my business and sit back and properly take care of myself it would have been a very different situation.

“There’s been a couple of points in my life where guaranteed money – where I don’t really have to think about it – would have been really, really handy, especially after the stroke.

“It’s left me with a couple of issues with the brain, I can’t deal with paperwork easily, especially if it’s new paperwork and those forms are not very easy and when lockdown came around and I potentially could have claimed for universal credit, I didn’t.”

Future generations commissioner Sophie Howe said keeping people well “means doing new things to tackle poverty”.

“It’s time to accept the system is broken and, without a stronger safety net, generations to come will be left with a legacy of deprivation.”

“UBI could protect not just those hit hard by Covid but every one of us from other shocks to come – like the climate emergency that’s going to cause more devastation via extreme weather like heatwaves and floods.”

Other signatories include Jonathan Rhys Williams, co-founder of UBI Lab Wales, Guy Standing, co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network, Cerys Furlong, chief executive of gender equality charity Chwarae Teg and Catherine Fookes, director of Women’s Equality Network Wales.

A Welsh government spokeswoman said it would listen to key stakeholders and was already working with Ms Howe’s office.

“We have closely followed the progress of pilots around the world with interest and believe there is an opportunity to test a version in Wales,” she said.

“We understand the excitement and the interest around this policy, however, it is important that we get it right – there is more work to be done in this area but we are interested in developing a version, potentially first involving people leaving care.”

The UK government said it has no plans to follow suit. “It would not incentivise work, target those most in need in society, or work for those who need more support, such as disabled people and those with caring responsibilities,” a spokesman said about UBI in May.

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