At our meeting on 3rd December 2020, Swansea Council became the first in Wales to join the UBI Lab Network’s campaign for a pilot of Universal Basic Income in the UK.  I am so proud to have proposed this motion, after adapting the wording from a draft provided by UBI Lab Swansea, calling for Welsh government and Westminster to support a pilot here in Swansea.  My speech is below, along with links to further info.

Last month we moved to support a pension credit take-up campaign, and we considered some alarming figures about how under-claimed this important benefit is.

As mentioned then, an estimated £16bn goes unclaimed in the UK every year, leaving people languishing in terrible situations.

The benefits system is confusing, bureaucratic, and degrading.  In Scotland, where a certain amount of responsibility for benefits is now devolved to Social Security Scotland, their motto is “Fairness, Dignity and Respect”.  The fact that this even needs to be said is a shocking indictment of the experience endured by claimants in the UK, and reminds us why our welfare system has been criticised by the United Nations as being in breach of Human Rights.

Small wonder that so many eligible people cannot bring themselves to claim.

We know that poverty costs the public purse.  The Equality Trust estimated in 2014 that in the UK we spend £39 bn per year MORE than similar countries where income is more fairly distributed, because inequality leads to illness, crime and poor mental health.  This money would be better spent in increasing peoples incomes so that we see fewer of these costly problems.

The UK benefits system is a greedy and inefficient monster.  Means testing and application processes consume huge amounts of resource.  In one year that I happened to investigate this, possibly 2008-9, the DWP spent almost as much money in INVESTIGATING fraud and error as they actually recovered from the process!

The system is failing enormously.

For some particular benefits, our own Welfare Rights team has an appeal success rate of nearly 100% – almost all the refusals they challenge turn out to be WRONG.

SO , instead of having a degrading, confusing, ineffective, fault-ridden benefits system, we need and deserve for everyone to simply receive what they need for a decent, basic standard of living.

Of course, some people with additional needs and costs may need additional top-ups to cope with challenges.  We don’t yet know the detail of exactly what a UBI would look like – this is being worked up by academics, drawing on learning from pilots around the world, but it would finally, ACTUALLY level the playing-field and give everyone the same starting-point from which they can grow and flourish.

Since proposing this motion, people have asked me questions about how UBI would work, how it would be funded, who would get what.  These are questions we can’t yet answer, because the very pilots which are now being called for, up and down the UK, are needed to develop proposals further and learn about what works.  I would refer colleagues to the website, where the Resources page has a helpful FAQ and other documents that might be useful.

A pilot itself will require resources and expertise. It is not for this council to find those, and the motion does not commit us to.  It simply acknowledges the great value of exploring the idea of UBI, and invites Welsh government and Westminster to work with us in Swansea to do so.

The pandemic has shown that providing people with financial security doesn’t encourage fecklessness or laziness, it frees them up to care for their loved ones, support their communities and pursue training and personal development.  In UBI pilots elsewhere, employment has actually increased, along with people’s health, confidence and motivation.  Psychologists will tell you that people WANT to work: to share their skills and passions in a way that enriches society, but they don’t want to be bullied into wage slavery, like so many of the care workers and key workers thrown into the front line and under the Covid bus.  All the clapping in the world won’t bring them back, and the colleagues they leave behind now face diminishing wages in thanks for their pains.

So, in closing, I absolutely condemn this terrible government’s announcement of a real terms pay cut for public sector workers, and I urge this council to recognise the fairness, dignity and respect which a Universal Basic Income could bring.  This could be an important safeguard as automation removes skilled jobs, as Brexit threatens even more livelihoods than Covid, and as our precious NHS falls foul of privatisation and cuts.

Now is the time to improve everyone’s health through the provision of a decent income that eradicates food banks, homelessness and exploitation.  This could be OUR GENERATION’S NHS, so let’s get it explored and piloted here in Wales.