Jonathan Williams on the latest developments for UBI in Wales


A report from SENEDD has made this another exciting week for those of us interested (some invested, some not) in basic income and the continued development of policy here in Wales.

The Petitions Committee heard testimony from a variety of organisations, including myself on behalf of UBI Lab, Commissioner for Future Generations Sophie Howe, Will Stronge of the think tank Autonomy, Lydia Godden of WEN Wales and Ewan Hilton and James Radcliffe from Platform. The consensus among all who provided evidence was that the pilot project should include a wider range of people.

The Senedd report comes on the heels of a report released by the Commissioner for Autonomy and Future Generations outlining two pilot models. One model would pay participants £60 a week with no changes to the benefit system. The other would pay £213 a week with a complete welfare state overhaul. Both of these models would be based on a single urban and rural geographic location (“a saturation site”) rather than individual participants across Wales.

Unlike the Home Rule report, which included jaw-dropping statistics like paying people £60 a week would halve poverty in Wales, the Petitions Committee report was short and sweet. He concluded that the Welsh Government pilot should be widened to include a range of different people – failure to do so would be a missed opportunity.

This is precisely what campaigners have been saying since it became clear the Welsh Government would focus its attention only on care leavers. It’s not that no one is opposed to care leavers being part of the trial, quite the contrary.

Many care leavers have gone through an enormous amount of adversity and they need more support from the state. But focusing on just one group in society, whether care leavers, employed people or unemployed people, will not help us understand what impact the policy would have if rolled out across the country tomorrow.

READ MORE: Calls on Wales to expand plans for Universal Basic Income pilot

This is what we must understand from any pilot. Does giving people a basic income in a community – and subsequently across Wales – improve overall health, education and economic activity in the area?

We think we know the answer, but we need the data to show when opponents tell us politics is too expensive and dismiss it as a utopian dream. And if the pilot is sloppy, it gives those naysayers plenty of lines of attack in any future basic income conversation.

The report of the Committee on Petitions made five recommendations:

  1. The Welsh Government should increase the size of the pilot to collect more robust data (as suggested in our petition).
  2. An effective care leavers pilot project should include care leavers from a variety of backgrounds and locations, and in different circumstances.
  3. Basic Income payments should be made to the individual, not the household (this ensures that women are not forced to stay with an abusive partner who controls household income – as may be the case with Universal Credit ).
  4. The Welsh Government should make every effort to persuade the UK Government to support the widest possible pilot scheme.
  5. The pilot must include a control group and must be evaluated by experts throughout the pilot. They should consider all indirect savings and well-being outcomes (such as less strain on health services if a basic income improves physical and mental well-being).

These are all good recommendations and it is clear that the Committee on Petitions understood the points raised by those of us who testified in November.

But that’s no surprise as the committee is headed by Sargeant, who is a strong policy advocate, and three of the committee’s four Senedd members have signed UBI Lab Cymru’s ‘Commitment to UBI’ ahead of last year’s elections. No prizes for guessing which member didn’t sign.

READ MORE: “On UBI, leave alarmism and hatred at the door”

As the report notes, any effort to expand the pilot beyond care leavers will require the cooperation of the UK government.

It is good to know that the Welsh government has now had these conversations with its Westminster counterparts. It was not clear that these conversations were continuing until the Advocate General confirmed this to the Senedd late last year. The General Counsel, of course, is also a strong advocate for UBI and has spoken at events and written blogs for UBI Lab about the policy.

If I had to make another recommendation, it would be that the Welsh Government seek to cooperate with the British Labor Party.

Keir Starmer’s team doesn’t have to support a UBI. They may be ambivalent about it and simply say they support the Welsh Labor Government’s decision to launch the kind of pilot scheme they want. And if the results show the policy does everything supporters say it will do, then it’s a vote winner. Where is the risk?

READ MORE: Why it’s OK to pay a basic income to billionaires

Sargeant has requested a response to the report from the Welsh Government by March 2022. Perhaps we could also request a response from UK Labor as to whether they will support Welsh Labor in their ongoing discussions with the UK Government around a pilot project.

For those of you who just can’t get enough of a good UBI report, more are on the way.

The UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee, to which UBI Lab Cymru gave evidence, will publish a report on its inquiry into the welfare state in Wales. It will be interesting to see what this has to say about universal basic income – I suspect it won’t be as supportive as the Senedd report.

There is also a report that reviews all the basic income pilots to date that have taken place in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

This review was commissioned by the International Observatory for Public Policy (a collaboration between Cardiff University, Queen’s University Belfast and others) and will be followed by a launch event exploring the report, which will be without no doubt very useful for anyone interested in politics.

Watch this space as the appetite for a UBI continues to grow in Wales and beyond.

Jonathan Williams is the co-founder of UBI Lab Cymru

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