Why the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to trial Universal Basic Income in Wales

Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Jane Dodds

Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

In November 2018, the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights reported that the United Kingdom, the world’s 5th richest nation, had 14 million people living in poverty.

In Wales, like the rest of the UK, we are seeing increasing homelessness and food bank use.

We need to look for progressive solutions and to continue to oppose government policies that demonise the poor.

One possible solution is Universal Basic Income (UBI), an idea that has been the subject of much debate across the political spectrum, including within my own party.

UBI is rooted in the idea that people seek purpose and, if given the opportunity and freedom to do so, will make the best decisions about their lives. As a Liberal I strongly believe everyone should be able to make decisions about their own lives and live a life they are proud of.

UBI would give people a guaranteed minimum income, giving them the freedom to live their lives and make decisions of their own free will, not on the basis of where their next paycheque comes from.

Opponents of UBI argue that it would damage economic growth and lead to fewer people in work, but I think this view underestimates people. Money is only one factor driving us to work and I suspect that most people would take the freedom UBI would give them to pursue the job they’ve always wanted to do, not quit work altogether.

While some people may indeed choose to work less, that is not necessarily a bad thing. They may do so to spend more time with their family, achieve a better (and healthier) work/life balance, upskill themselves, undertake charity work or care for loved ones.

This does not mean there aren’t challenges surrounding UBI, but for me we can’t keep on trying the same old methods and expect to get new results. That’s why I want us to host some trials of UBI right here in Wales, so we can find out just how practical an idea it is.

There have been several trials across the world, each showing varied results. This proves UBI is a complex issue which must be carefully looked at and the system adjusted to match the needs of each respective country.

I want us to make our judgements based upon as large a pool of evidence as possible before we discount the idea. I want the UK Government to allow Welsh councils, who are willing, to pilot forms of UBI.

Through trials in Wales, and hopefully across the UK, we’ll gain the much-needed evidence on the effectiveness and affordability of UBI. Only then can we make an informed judgement.

There are two main models of UBI; that of a lower rate of income paid to adults, pensioners and for each child, which could be implemented in a parliamentary term.  The second pays a higher rate, and would require a build of funds in to a “wealth fund” over a longer period of time.

Before we discount the idea let us consider what the research has shown. Even at the reduced rates, under a Partial UBI scheme, we would see:

  • Child poverty fall by over 50%,
  • Working age poverty drop by 20%,
  • Pensioner poverty fall by a third.

Surely with the potential to really tackle deeply ingrained poverty, which festers away in our most deprived communities, we should not simply discount this idea as too extravagant or too unworkable – at least not till we have done trails to see the evidence is for ourselves.

I just wanted to finish with a quote from one of the people who took part in the study in Canada:

“Basic income has given me the freedom to live with some dignity with a little extra money to buy the essentials. I want to make the most of this opportunity and work up to a full-time job eventually – I feel much more in control of my own life.”

This is the type of compassionate and liberal approach we need to fight poverty and improve our wellbeing. UBI could improve people’s lives, allow to live in dignity and gives them a little more control over their own future. I hope we will someday see trials taking place right here in Wales.


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