NEW ideas, especially those that challenge the existing social order, go from being seen as inconceivable, to inevitable, to never in doubt. One classic example of this is the NHS.

The NHS is something most Britons are rightly proud of. It provides world-class healthcare to the entire population of the country, regardless of income, employment status, race or gender. It is a truly universal service, free at the point of access and paid for by everyone’s taxes.

It is something we all take for granted now, but its establishment was never a foregone conclusion or an inevitability. In fact, it was established in the teeth of ferocious opposition from all corners of society, including the medical profession and politicians from all parties.

It was a Welshman, Aneurin Bevan who, in 1948 as health minister in the Labour government of Clement Attlee, finally made real some of the recommendations of the wartime report written by Liberal politician William Beveridge.

The initial shape of the NHS was inspired by the Tredegar Medical Aid Society. For more than 30 years, the inhabitants of this Welsh town where Bevan was born, had been receiving healthcare free at the point of use in exchange for regular contributions to the society. By 1933, 95% of the town’s population were in the scheme.

When Bevan became health minister in 1945, he said he wanted to “Tredegar-ise” the population of Britain by extending to all the benefits enjoyed by the people of his hometown.

He was opposed at every turn including the medical establishment, with the British Medical Association calling him “the Tito of Tonypandy”, in reference to the then dictator of Yugoslavia.

Charities, churches and local authorities did not want the state taking over the hospitals they were running and the Conservatives, who had written the initial wartime white paper on a universal health service, feared it was a socialist takeover.

Even in his own Labour Party, bigwigs like Herbert Morrison were opposed, saying local councils were better qualified than the government to administer healthcare.

And on and on. These were well-organised campaigns that came close to derailing the birth of the NHS.

We like to talk about universal basic income (UBI) as our generation’s NHS. This is mainly because, as with the NHS, we see it as a universal tool that will bring transformative change to our country and will touch the lives of all.


But also because, like the NHS 70 years ago, the idea faces what often seems like insurmountable opposition from many disparate quarters.

And, as with the inspiration for the NHS, we hope that the inspiration for a UK-wide UBI will come from Wales.

That is why the Liberal Democrats support the trial Mark Drakeford has put forward for Wales, but we want it to go further and be more ambitious and more representative of the population as a whole.

Because once the benefits become apparent, as we believe they will, a permanent UBI will be seen as an inevitable move to address the growing inequality and the deep-seated problems faced by the people of Wales today.

When UBI is a reality all across the UK and the history is written, it will look like it was never in doubt. But those of us who were there will know it was never inevitable - we all collectively made it happen. And it started in Wales.

Jane Dodds is Member of Senedd for Mid and West Wales and the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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