Universal Basic Income trial in Wales could help solve the nation’s ‘broken’ welfare system – and be ‘our generation’s NHS’

By James Moules

UNIVERSAL Basic Income advocates will be keeping a watchful eye on Wales as the country is set to launch a pilot scheme of the hotly debated policy.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an idea in which every citizen or resident of a given country or area would be given an unconditional sum of money on a regular basis – regardless of their social or economic status.

While it was a peripheral idea not long ago, UBI has gained significant traction in the past few years. Andrew Yang ran for the Presidency of the United States on a UBI platform, as did Benoît Hamon in France.

In the UK, the Liberal Democrats announced their commitment to the policy at their party conference in 2020, while numerous candidates in the Scottish and Welsh Parliament elections of 2021 signed pledges calling for basic income trials.

Following his party’s victory in the Senedd, First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford announced that the country would host a basic income pilot scheme.

In a radio interview, Mr Drakeford said: “It will have to be carefully designed, it will draw on the experience of attempted pilots in Scotland, but I have a very longstanding interest in basic income.

“I hope we will be able to mount an experiment here that will test whether the claims that are made for a basic income approach are actually delivered.”

UBI Lab Cymru – the Welsh branch of UBI Lab, a network of campaigners advocating basic income – welcomed the First Minister’s announcement.

The group ran a #PledgeForUBI campaign during the local elections – in which candidates across the nation were urged to sign a pledge to support pilots of the policy.

Ciaran Sturge, a communications officer for UBI Lab Cymru, told Redaction Report: “Our initial thoughts on the trial announced by the First Minister are positive.

“A year ago, basic income was barely on the agenda. It is now a mainstream idea with the left leaning parties in Wales all supporting it.

“We believe its’ time has come. Following the success of our #PledgeForUBI campaign in the run up to the elections – 25 elected Senedd members pledged their support to trial a basic income in Wales.

“This has now been carried forward by the First Minister who has committed to trialing the idea – he has been a fan of the idea for many years and is now vocal with his support in light of the clear mandate for a trial in Wales.”

The BBC reported that the basic income pilot scheme could be targeted at care leavers, with a spokesperson for the Welsh government saying: “We have followed the progress of universal basic income pilot projects around the world with interest and believe there is an opportunity to test the concept in Wales.

“There is more work to be done in this area but we are interested in developing a small pilot, potentially involving people leaving care.”

Ciaran Sturge added that it would be more ideal for the pilot to cover a wide window of society, telling Redaction Report: “Ideally, we would want to see a trial across a broad cohort of society – the employed, unemployed, those on benefits, people of different ages etc in order to study the effects on different groups such as the impacts on employment, educational attainment, mental and physical wellbeing etc. 

“We believe a pilot should be across 5000 to 10,000 people over a period of 3 years with a payment of approximately £60 to £80 for children and £100 to £150 for adults. 

“Whilst we welcome any move towards a pilot in Wales, we do have concerns that limiting a trial to care leavers – which is what is being mooted – will limit the scope of the pilot to one group in society. 

“However, the reality is that with the current devolution settlement we do not have  the power in Wales to pay for a full scale trial. We would need social security devolved – or indeed the support of the UK Government.”

Proponents of Universal Basic Income argue that it would provide a solution to the welfare and benefits system, help alleviate poverty, and support people through unemployment or insecure work.

On the other hand, critics say that it the programme could cost the state too much money and remove the incentive for people to work.

The policy was put before Swiss voters in a 2016 referendum, in which they rejected it on a margin of 76.9 per cent to 23.1 per cent.

Ciaran said: “For those not already on board, we simply point to the fact that the current welfare system is broken – millions of pounds is wasted on administration,  and the current set up is failing those in greatest need of support. UBI; a regular, fixed, unconditional cash payment would remove the standard element of universal credit and therefore remove the staggering cost of administering it. 

“A UBI would also remove the stigma of benefits and encourage more social involvement in society – people could give back to communities, volunteer, care for loved ones etc in the knowledge that they had the financial safety net to do so.”

He also pointed to a UBI study from Finland that ran between 2017 and 2018 in which 2,000 unemployed people were given an unconditional 560 euros per month for two years – which found that there was a substantial rise in their sense of wellbeing.

“Studies have also shown improved mental and physical health – and would therefore reduce the strain and cost on our NHS,” he added.

“In terms of the economy – paying being a cash payment will boost the economy as there will be additional spending. In Wales, we have unacceptable levels of poverty. The fundamental principle of UBI is to alleviate poverty – and what is poverty In its most basic sense? A lack of cash.”

He added: “We believe a basic income would help change this. Its not a silver bullet – further investment in public services is needed for example – but a clear, progressive step in the right direction. 

“UBI may also be an answer in Wales to the ever changing job market with further automation becoming a reality – we have already seen most of our industry pulled apart in this country – and automation will result in further job losses.

“The future is uncertain – let’s give working people some certainty with a basic income. I would also love to see a basic income tied in with the green revolution. Lets pay for this with progressive ideas such as a sovereign wealth – use the profits of green infrastructure – wind, solar, tidal – to pay for a UBI. Its a win-win.

“The NHS was born in Wales, UBI could be our generation’s NHS.” 

Featured Image: Pixabay

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