Wales should explore paying everyone a basic income to study how it could improve lives for generations in the future, the First Minister is being urged.
By: Sophie Howe
UBI advocates including the Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe, UBI Lab Cymru, Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, and Chwarae Teg have written to Mark Drakeford asking him to expand plans for testing the benefits of supporting people with enough money for their basic needs.
A universal basic income (UBI) is an unconditional payment where a government pays every individual a set salary, regardless of their means. Payments are made automatically, without procedures like queuing and regular form-filling.
Earlier this year, following a Wales-wide movement, Mr Drakeford announced he would pilot a basic income. Welsh Government later said it was interested in developing a small pilot, potentially involving people leaving care.
Yet signatories of the open letter say that while care leavers need more support, they are concerned that confining the pilot in this way won’t provide the evidence needed to understand the impacts of a basic income for all.
Instead, they want Welsh Government to run a wide-ranging ‘Care Leavers Plus’ pilot, to include children, the employed, the unemployed and pensioners, as well as care leavers.
A wider pilot could collect evidence on how the policy would impact Wales as a whole, by testing the effect on educational attainment, for example. Wales has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK.
According to the World Health Organisation, poverty is the single largest determinant of health, and ill health is an obstacle to social and economic development. This means poorer people live shorter lives and have poorer health than affluent people.
In June, a new report by Public Health Wales said introducing a basic income could mean better health and well-being for everyone in Wales.
Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act requires Welsh Government to use joined-up thinking to develop long-term solutions and prevent problems.
A poll on behalf of the Future Generations Commissioner found that 69% of people in Wales think we should trial a basic income and 25 Members of the Senedd have signed UBI Lab Wales’ Pledge for UBI.
Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner, said furlough ending this September along with an end to the Universal Credit pandemic top-up of £20 a week were yet more signs that the current systems of welfare and work aren’t fit for purpose.
Ms Howe wants MSs to talk to people in their communities this summer about how a basic income could better support them long-term and for Mr Drakeford to implement a geographically-based UBI pilot as part of his new programme for government.
In her Fit for the Future Programme for Government, the commissioner calls for the pilot to include participants split across two specific communities, in one urban and one rural region of Wales.
She said: “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.
“Keeping people well means doing new things to tackle poverty, and Welsh Government has to take this chance now to use the Well-being of Future Generations Act to properly test how a UBI can change lives.”
Jonathan Williams, founder, UBI Lab Cymru, said: “It’s of great importance that we get this pilot design right. If we’re to truly understand what impact the policy could have on society, we must include all demographics. The results of a wide-ranging pilot could be a gamechanger in terms of bringing on board people who are still unconvinced about the merits of a basic income for all.
“The Welsh Government have taken a huge step in the right direction by being brave enough to announce they will run a trial. Now they must make the case to the UK Government that a substantive pilot is what the Welsh public want.”
Professor Guy Standing, co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network, said: “This is a unique opportunity for Wales to take the lead, and demonstrate that a basic income would strengthen resilience while enhancing physical and mental health. Having been involved in piloting it in three continents, I am confident that it will improve the lives of Welsh men, women and children. Basic security is a human need.”
Catherine Fookes, director, Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, said: “A Universal Basic Income pilot in Wales is an exciting opportunity to examine how UBI could be used as a Wales-wide tool to tackle poverty and reduce stigma around benefit claimants. UBI could potentially have a profound impact on closing the gap on gender inequality in Wales. Let’s blaze a trail in Wales with an ambitious pilot that gathers evidence on the impact of UBI on a demographically representative sample, so that we can see the effects on everyone in Wales.”
- Taylor Edmonds, the Future Generations Commissioner’s Poet in Residence, has written a powerful new poem, Reconsidering Future, that imagines a Wales in the future where ‘everyone is paid enough to truly live’, in support of a full UBI pilot. You can watch it being read by Taylor and other people in support of UBI for Wales, here.
Full letter to the First Minister, asking him to consider a Care Leavers Plus pilot of UBI that includes a demographically representative sample of the entire population, as well as care leavers…
Dear Mark Drakeford,
We write to you following the recent announcement that the Welsh Government will pilot a Basic Income. We would like to express our gratitude to those involved in taking the decision to test a policy that could transform the lives of current and future generations for the better.
We understand you are considering a pilot that will involve young people leaving care. While we agree that care leavers need more support, we’re concerned that confining the pilot to a particular group won’t provide the evidence needed to understand the impacts of a Basic Income for all.
Instead, we advise you to consider a ‘Care Leavers Plus’ pilot that includes a demographically representative sample of the entire population, as well as care leavers.
A geographically-based UBI pilot would allow you to collect the necessary evidence on how the policy would impact Wales if it were introduced tomorrow.
We already know from past pilots in Finland and Stockton, among others, that a Basic Income significantly improves recipients physical and mental well-being, with evidence of less frequent visits to hospitals, better mental health outcomes and reduced demand on services in later life. Indeed, the recent report published by Public Health Wales: ‘A basic income to improve population health and well-being in Wales’, confirmed the policy is likely to have the same impact here if it is implemented in the right way.
A more ambitious pilot that includes a demographically diverse sample could test what effects the policy has not only on people most in need, such as those experiencing child poverty, of which Wales has the highest rate in the UK, but the effects on everyone in Wales.
This kind of pilot could test what impact the policy has on older people. We may find that it provides them with the freedom to retire with their dignity. We may also learn more about the impact a Basic Income could have on gender equality issues like women disproportionately providing unpaid care work for their loved ones.
The pilot should interact with our welfare system. As the pandemic has demonstrated, our current system is not fit for purpose and it can keep claimants locked into poverty. Only by including a range of people can we show there is a better way to guarantee economic security for everyone.
A poll by Survation, published in March 2021, found that 69% of people in Wales think we should pilot a Basic Income. 25 Members of the Senedd signed UBI Lab Wales’ Pledge for UBI ahead of the May 2021 Senedd Elections. We are in no doubt that those surveyed and those who signed the pledge want to see a pilot that reflects the whole of Wales.
We understand that any wide-ranging pilot will require the cooperation of HMRC and the UK Government Department for Work and Pensions. However, you have a clear mandate to make the case for a substantive pilot – you must use it.
We encourage all Members of the Senedd to talk to people in their communities this summer about how a basic income could better support them long-term, so that they can return from the summer recess ready to meaningfully engage in the Basic Income conversation.
Wales could pioneer the next universal policy that cares for everyone from cradle to grave; as it did with the NHS over 70 years ago. If that is to happen, we must get this pilot right.
We look forward to working with Welsh Government and others in the coming months to achieve this ambition.
Jonathan Rhys Williams (Co-founder of UBI Lab Wales) | Sophie Howe (Future Generations Commissioner for Wales)
Professor Guy Standing (Co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network) | Cerys Furlong (Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg)
Catherine Fookes (Director of Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales)
Phillip Easton from Penrhiwceiber in Rhondda Cynon Taf said UBI would be ‘life-changing’ for people in his area.
During lockdowns, the 41-year-old’s business, Pip’s Real Hot Chocolate, could no longer supply to events or cafés and Phillip, who didn’t qualify for Universal Credit, struggled to pay his mortgage and for food, using the last of his savings, and grants (NDR, Non Domestic Rate, and via the Economic Resilience Fund.)
Phillip suffered a stroke six years ago which left him with brain damage meaning he finds paperwork difficult and says an automatic, guaranteed payment would make a huge difference during economic uncertainty.
“Because the funding changes, you don’t know if you’re going to get support,” said Phillip.
“It’s hard to plan and that uncertainty puts a pressure on your mental health. It’s a very testing time. Now is my quiet season, after having been unable to sell during the busy winter period, but I have no idea if I’m going to get any more help.”
In practical terms, Phillip said a UBI could pay for a member of staff, or a piece of equipment when it breaks down, but most of all, it would have wide community benefits for everyone.
RCT has the highest rate of child poverty in Wales and at the start of the year, Covid death rates there were the third highest in the UK – 283 per 100,000 people – twice the national average.
In February, the director for public health at Cwm Taf Morgannwg, Kelechi Nnoaham, linked the problem to poverty and health inequalities. He told BBC Wales: “If someone had pulled any one of us up in February 2020 and said, ‘There’s a pandemic coming, can you fast forward one year and assess which communities would have the most severe hit from this pandemic?’, you could almost predict the picture we’re seeing now with a reasonable degree of accuracy.”
Phillip said: “If my area was chosen for the pilot, then those children who live in the worst poverty in Wales would have money in their families that they never dreamed of.
“We have pride. We don’t want charity. But some things that can be taken for granted aren’t a priority. We can give our houses and shops a fresh coat of paint, and the hidden broken things can be repaired – all by other local businesses, keeping the local economy moving.
“Money isn’t meant to be stored in banks – it’s meant to move.
“UBI isn’t about giving people money, it’s about giving them opportunities. Opportunities for a better home life, better mental health, more time to do the things that make somewhere a place people want to live in.”
Lani Driver lives in Holt, near Wrexham, and works full-time in a job she’s not sure will exist in the future.
The 24-year-old, who learned about UBI while studying for a Masters Degree in Social Policy at Cardiff University, is currently commuting for two hours a day to an administrator job in St Asaph.
Yet she’d love the time to focus on building a business she’s passionate about – when she finishes work every day, she bakes brownies and cakes for the small bakery business she runs from her parents’ kitchen.
“I don’t particularly enjoy my day job and after that, there isn’t much time left to do anything else,” said Lani, who is co-founder of UBILabWrexham.
“I’d love to be able to develop the business. It’s what I love. But I don’t have the means or the time to do it.
‘’I know so many people with a passion but they’re stressed out about money and can’t afford to do what they need to build a business. UBI would take away a lot of that stress.
‘Society is changing. There are a lot of jobs in manufacturing around here that are changing already – it’s easy to think that it’s all about robots, but a lot of it is just software – for example my job in sales, I think that very soon software will do that – and my job won’t exist. What will happen then?”
Lani thinks the benefits of a UBI to her area could be huge.
“I went to school in Rhyl and I knew a lot of people who were struggling. Much of the work up here is very seasonal, and people struggle for regular income. Growing up that way has an impact, it stays with you, even once you get to the point you have enough money as an adult.
“If you experienced that uncertainty growing up, the anxiety you might find yourself back in that situation stays with you’’.
Lani’s parents lost their business in the financial crash of 2008 and she’s since reflected on how having a basic income would have made a difference.
‘’I’d love to see the Government pilot a UBI in Wales so that everyone in a town or area receives it, whatever their age and circumstances.
‘’I think we need to ask ourselves what sort of society we want. I know a lot of people with kids for example who are working all hours when they’d rather be spending time with their family – I’d love to see more people being able to do that.”
A poem, by Taylor Edmonds, the Poet in Residence for the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales….
Let’s rewrite the story.
In this version, your mother doesn’t take a second job,
no 50-hour week and empty seat at the table.
Without the weight of night shifts on her back
she goes to college, starts to dream
of soil-stained hands, a community garden,
of reading stories to the sleepy rhythm of your breath.
Your next-door neighbour lives.
His body lighter, he starts to paint, fills the walls
with hues of watercolour. The haunting
eviction and red-lettered final warnings
never come through the letterbox.
His children know only how to be children,
full-bellied, planning a trip to space,
to build a secret den in the treetops.
What kind of home is Wales
when a third of young people are living in poverty?
Let’s change the narrative, break the cycle
while our toes are curled at the brink.
Reverse queues for food banks,
end job insecurity, rising unemployment,
homelessness, the long wait for welfare
cheques that barely make ends meet.
We may fail and stumble,
but imagine a country
where everyone is paid enough to truly live.
Without the fear of losing it all,
who could you become?
Freedom to imagine, experiment, move
with purpose, defined by more
than a job title, possessions, productivity.
When we own our bodies,
I want you to just lay here in the grass
Taylor Edmonds, Poet in Residence for the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
UBI Pilot Parameters.
The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, calls in her Fit for the Future Programme for Government, for Welsh Government’s UBI pilot to:
- Be geographically based and include participants split across two specific communities – in one urban and one rural region of Wales.
- Provide a non means-tested and non-withdrawable monthly payment.
- Be run for a period of 24 months.
The news release and video, Reconsidering Future, By Taylor Edmonds, Poet in Residence for the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, will be online from Monday, July 26, in Welsh, here, and in English, here.
Taylor Edmonds is the Future Generations Commissioner’s second poet-in-residence, in collaboration with Literature Wales, Welsh Government and Wales Arts International.
The 26-year-old was recruited to the post in April 2021 to communicate Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act and the duty it puts on those in power to protect people not yet born.
The legislation made Wales the first country in the world to include culture in its definition of sustainable development – placing value on the power of art to improve a person and community’s well-being.
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