POVERTY in Wales would be halved if the Welsh Government established a universal basic income system, a report has claimed.

The idea of a basic payment for Welsh residents has been keenly debated this year with first minister Mark Drakeford having committed to looking at a pilot scheme shortly after the election in May.

But there is considerably debate over how a pilot would be run and there remains uncertainty over how payments could impact, or be made in conjunction with, the benefits system which is the responsibility of the UK Government.

Today campaigners who want a universal basic income, or UBI, introduced in Wales are to give evidence to the Senedd petitions committee.

They will point to research, carried out by leading think tank Autonomy, that a UBI, would decrease overall poverty rates in Wales by 50 per cent, and child poverty would decrease by 64 per cent, bringing it to a rate of under 10 per cent in Wales.

It is currently at 28 per cent – the worst in the UK.

Though Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats supported a UBI at the election Labour has been more cautious and has said any pilot would be more narrowly focused than a simple payment to everyone over 18 and would instead focus on specific groups of people, like care leavers.

The report also found nearly three quarters of people in Wales, 69 per cent, support piloting UBI.

UBI is a government programme in which every citizen receives a set amount of money on a regular basis, regardless of their employment status.

It is a minimum payment, designed to meet basic needs, paid to everyone individually, unconditionally.

However campaigners including UBI Lab Wales, the future generations commissioner Sophie Howe and more than 1,000 petitioners have since called on the first minister to ensure the pilot includes children, the employed, the unemployed and pensioners, as well as care leavers.

Howe is among those who will give evidence to the committee, alongside director of research at Autonomy Will Stronge, calling for a geographically-based universal basic income (UBI) scheme.

The National Wales: Future generations commissioner Sophie HoweFuture generations commissioner Sophie Howe

Basing a pilot on a geographic area is seen as a way of ensuring it would assess how the payment would work on a 'universal' basis rather than limiting payments to specific groups as suggested by the government. Critics have also pointed out a pilot, as envisaged by Drakeford, wouldn't be a trial of a 'universal' system.

Gwynedd council has already suggested the county, which is mostly rural but has urban pockets such as Bangor and some of the highest poverty rates in the country, would make an ideal test bed. Cynon Valley MP Beth Winter has also put forward her constituency as the ideal place to see how a universal system would work on the ground.

READ MORE: What next for Wales' UBI trial and what could it look like?

Howe said UBI could deliver “a more equal, prosperous Wales”.

“Piloting a UBI trial here in Wales gives us a chance to increase the prosperity of every single person, giving more people a life jacket when they need to keep their head above the water – which has the potential to create a healthier, more equal population,” she said.

“The findings in this report should excite leaders who say they want a true green and just recovery that makes life fairer for everyone.”

Stronge said: “The Covid-19 pandemic necessitates radical and bold changes to support people through future economic shocks.

“As the economy and labour market struggles to find its feet, it’s clear that guaranteeing an income floor for all is the most progressive way of securing livelihoods.”

READ MORE: Calls for Wales to broaden plans for UBI pilot

Ewan Hilton and James Radcliffe, chief executive and head of policy at Platfform, a mental health and social change charity, will also be giving evidence at the session, as well as Lydia Godden, of Women’s Equality Network Wales (WEN Cymru).

Last week Liberal Democrat Senedd Member Jane Dodds wrote an opinion piece for The National arguing the payment will help tackle inequalities faced by women. You can read that article here.

Read more opinion pieces on UBI:

A trial in Wales of 2,500 people, the report finds, could cost about £50m, with adults being paid from £60 per week.

Those who were already living in poor health, poverty or in marginalised communities are said to have been the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Rising living costs, combined with the end of the coronavirus job retention scheme, also known as furlough, on top of cuts to welfare benefits such as universal credit, is amounting to a “perfect storm” or “tsunami”, according to respondents to a Senedd Committee inquiry into debt and the pandemic held this month.

Poverty in Wales

Wrexham Foodbank said it provided 3,071 emergency food parcels to people between April and September 2021. Of these, 1,094 went to children.

The National Wales: Sally Ellinson of Wrexham FoodbankSally Ellinson of Wrexham Foodbank

The figures represent an 11 per cent increase on the same period in 2019, and the food bank believes the increase in local people needing its support is due to them not being able to access support or that payments they do receive simply don’t cover the cost of essentials.

It also reported continued issues with benefit payments and insecure work.

Sally Ellinson, Foodbank Manager of Wrexham Foodbank said: "We know our figures are just the tip of the iceberg as different community organisations, independent food banks and local authorities have also been working during the pandemic to support our community."

Katherine Adams, a married mum whose family fell into poverty after she was taken ill shortly after the birth of her first child, has given her backing to the Future Generation Commissioner's support for a UBI.

The family were living in poor quality, damp and mouldy rented accomodation at the time and their experiences has been highlighted by the commissioner's officer.

The 38-year-old from Conwy, is currently a full time student, and lives with husband Danny, a gardener, and her six-year-old son.

She said: "When my little boy was born I was very ill and in and out of intensive care for months – I had to have lots of operations. My husband could not go to work for most of that time because we had a new-born baby that he had to single-handedly look after and he lost his job.   

“The consequences of that have lasted for years. It gave us debts to pay off because the benefits system didn’t respond quickly enough to the situation we suddenly found ourselves in. Something like Universal Basic Income would have prevented that kind of crisis from being so long-lasting.” 

"We receive Universal Credit and it feels unstable because it’s so conditional and subject to change. Sometimes you don’t find out about changes until the consequences have already hit like finding out you’ve been overpaid historically and then suddenly having to pay it back.” 

She said a UBI would give the family greater financial security, and certainty, which could allow her and Danny to make greater financial commitments, such as a reliable car, save money towards a house and even activities such as children's sports.

“We would be able to sign my little my little boy up for swimming or gymnastics knowing that is something we could always afford rather than having to make a decision month by month and worrying about promising him things that we couldn’t deliver."

READ MORE: Universal Credit reduction: What does it mean in Wales?

What have other studies shown?

A report for the Scottish Government concluded it couldn't introduce a UBI without full control of taxation and benefits which would suggests any pilot proposed by the Welsh Government would be drawn up with reference to the Scottish report.

A review into a UBI pilot in Finland, which ran from 2017 to 2018, found people who took part were generally more satisfied with their lives and experienced less mental strain, depression, sadness and loneliness.

They also worked slightly more than those on unemployment benefits and reported better cognitive functioning.

While Finland was the first European country to pilot such a scheme, it was in the end considered a failure. However, many experts have since said the scheme was flawed because it was underfunded and rushed.

Additional reporting: Bronwen Weatherby, Press Association

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