Money for nothing could be Utopia for Prestonians

To some it is a much-needed solution to the nation’s inequalities, to others it is a “Loafers' Charter.”

Thursday, 28th January 2021, 8:54 am

Universal Basic Income (UBI), which pays everyone a guaranteed “wage” whether they work or not, could one day be trialled in Preston if the Labour council gets its way.

Members will take a small step towards becoming the UK’s first UBI city when they debate the radical policy at this afternoon’s full council meeting.

The idea, being put forward by Labour Councillor Carol Henshaw, is for Preston to be used as a test bed. She believes that with its history of social innovation, community wealth building and the much-admired Preston Model, the city is ideally-placed to try it out.

Everyone would get a standard amount to cover basic living.

“This is the best place to trial it,” said Coun Henshaw, whose notice of motion, putting Preston at the vanguard of the UBI movement, will be voted on by the council and then sent to the Prime Minister, Chancellor and other Government figures.

“I feel Preston is perfect because we have such diversity in the city. And I feel quite confident it would be successful.”

The city’s Lib-Dem group is also backing the idea in principle, claiming it was the party which originally considered the idea nationally. The Conservatives will make their position known at today’s meeting.

Coun Henshaw’s motion will ask members to agree that the council believes in the concept of a UBI where citizens are paid “a non-means tested sum from the state to cover the basic cost of living, paid to all citizens individually, regardless of employment status, wealth, or marital status.

Coun Carol Henshaw who has put forward the idea of Preston being a test bed.

“This council wants Preston to be the UK’s first ‘UBI City,’ recognising that the city is at the forefront of social innovation and community wealth building.

“This council believes that testing a UBI is needed, as a UBI has the potential to address key challenges such as inequality, poverty, precarious employment, pandemics such as Covid-19 and loss of community.”

It also says: “This council believes that the current benefit system is failing citizens, with Universal Credit causing hardship to many communities in Preston.”

If approved, the Preston Labour group is expected to press ahead with the idea despite a lack of support from its party nationally. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said last month that UBI would not be in the party’s next manifesto, adding: “It won’t work.”

Undaunted, Coun Henshaw believes it can work, although details, like how much of a handout everyone would get, are yet to be worked out And she strongly disagrees with those who think it will only encourage people not to go to work.

“It isn’t a charter for people not going to work,” she said. “This is basic income, just enough to live on. It doesn’t give you luxuries. You would have to go to work for that.”

Lib-Dem leader Coun John Potter said his party nationally had adopted UBI as its policy “in principle” last September. He added: “Lib-Dems are now looking at practicalities and details, like how much would it cost to the nearest billion. So we are ahead of other parties regarding this.”

Coun Potter has put in an amendment to the Labour motion adding the points that: “The existence of a Universal Basic Income must be in addition to targeted welfare payments to those who have additional needs - such as for housing, for single parents, or for expenses incurred due to disabilities.”

He also said a similar trial in Finland had found that those who had received UBI reported “better financial wellbeing, stronger mental health and a higher level of confidence. UBI did not deter people from working.”

He added: “As a party we are cautiously for it, but obviously the practicalities will have to be worked out.

“Quite a few other local authorities have said they will trial it. Hull put themselves forward last year.”

The Lib-Dems agreed at their annual conference to campaign for a UBI to be paid to all long-term UK residents to help create a fairer social security system.

“No-one should be left with insufficient income to feed, clothe and house themselves to an adequate standard,” said the party. “Having a secure income is a vital component for allowing people to be able to exercise other freedoms and liberties. The process of rebuilding Britain’s economy after the Covid-19 pandemic, and the successful transition to a low-carbon, high-tech economy, will require people to feel empowered to embark on new careers, to undertake new training and learning, and to start new enterprises.”

The idea of a state-run basic income for everyone is far from new. It dates back to the early 16th century when Sir Thomas More’s book “Utopia” featured a society where each person received a statutory income to cover subsistence.

Different systems on the same theme have been discussed over the centuries and the British welfare system evolved from the idea that no-one should be left without a subsistence allowance. Around the world there have been numerous basic income pilot programmes, especially over the past 10 years, but they all remain experiments.