For anyone with a modicum of interest in Basic Income and how the policy is developing here in Wales, this week was pretty exciting.  

The Future Generations Commissioner released a report carried out by Autonomy, a London-based think-tank, on what a Basic Income might look like in Wales.

It’s the most comprehensive document in Wales on the policy and it sets out a range of ideas from a simple Basic Income of £60 a week to a more desirable rate of £213 a week – the latter based on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum income standard.  

Some people, quite rightly, will question why anyone would put forward an amount as little as £60 a week. It won’t pay the rent, the leccy bill, or get you very far with the food shop – especially as the cost of living crisis takes hold.  

READ MORE: A Universal Basic Income could cut poverty in Wales by half, say campaigners

But that figure is in addition to existing benefits. Essentially, the £60 is on top of all the other benefits people would typically receive, meaning it requires barely any changes to the benefits system. The only substantive change is that the State Pension and Child Benefit would be re-christened as a Basic Income. 

The idea of paying an introductory Basic Income has been promoted by leading thinkers in the movement such as Malcolm Torry and Guy Standing. Their view – and I agree – is that it’s more politically feasible to start with a lower payment and work upwards rather than immediately call for £213 a week.  

We need to bring people on board with the idea and calling for hundreds of pounds to be paid before the policy has even got off the ground is not going to fly with the Welsh public.  

Don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than to see the JRF’s minimum income standard as the Basic Income rate – but it isn’t going to happen. That’s why it would be sensible to view that amount as an end point, not the beginning. Others invested in this policy won’t share my view, but debate is healthy.  

READ MORE: Think Universal Basic Income is a pipe dream? So was the NHS

There are other ways you could introduce a Basic Income other than adding money on top of existing benefits. For instance, you could remove subsistence benefits such as the standard element of Universal Credit and pay a more generous Basic Income of £100 to £150, while maintaining disability, housing and carers allowances, so that those with additional needs are not left worse off.  

This model is unlikely to reduce poverty as significantly and immediately as paying money on top of existing benefits. But it will remove the punitive conditions and sanctions attached to applying for benefits.  

People will no longer have to meet with a job coach every week or be forced to accept precarious employment they could lose within a month. This puts them back on benefits and the cycle starts again – or they lose hope and don’t bother.   

The great thing about the Future Generation Commissioner’s report is that it’s really kicked off a conversation about the impact the policy would have on poverty.  

Paying everyone £60 per month will reduce overall poverty in Wales by half. Overnight child poverty would be reduced by 64 per cent, working-age adult poverty by 41 per cent and pensioner poverty by 61 per cent.

Those are incredible numbers. To go from a country where a third of our children are living in poverty to one where one in ten children live in poverty is a massive improvement. Of course, it’s not good enough – no child should live in poverty – but it’s a huge step in the right direction.  

The higher amount of £213 would almost eradicate poverty in Wales. In an ideal world this is where we’d begin. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a deeply polarised world where ideas that are perceived to have come from left are relentlessly attacked as ‘communism’ and all sorts of other nonsense.  

We know that poverty is inextricably linked with health, wellbeing, education, productivity and so much more. A decrease in the number of people living in poverty should run in parallel with improvements in school performance, educational attainment, a reduction in the number of people using health services and a happier and healthier workforce. These added benefits will inevitably improve our economy.  

If we can halve poverty overnight, let’s do it. We can make the case for increasing the amount and reforming the welfare system when we can point to the wide-ranging benefits of giving people cash.  

READ MORE: 'Universal Basic Income would improve health in Wales'

The report also looks at how we might pay for a Basic Income, such as the introduction of wealth taxes, making income tax more progressive and setting up a Welsh Future Fund (a kind of sovereign wealth fund). The latter is an idea UBI Lab Wales is particularly keen on, and one we have advocated for some time.   

The Future Fund could be a green version of Alaska’s Permanent Fund, where profits made from oil extraction are distributed to the citizens of the state. If the Welsh Government make good on their promise to set up a state-owned energy company that invests heavily in renewables, it could use the profits to pay people a Basic Income.  

This report should give everyone food for thought, and I hope the Welsh Government gives it the consideration it deserves – especially when it comes to the design of the planned Basic Income pilot which is likely to start next year. 

It’s safe to say those of us who gave evidence to the Senedd’s Petitions Committee – led by Jack Sargent MS – over the past few week were united in our calls for the proposed pilot to be widened to include a diverse range of people in a single geographic location, rather than it being confined to a single group of people across the country. 

READ MORE: Calls for wider Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot in Wales

We expect that the committee’s report, which is due in January, will call for the proposed pilot to be widened. This would see it include not just care leavers but adults in and out of work, as well as children and pensioners. This is the only way we can truly test the effects that a Universal Basic Income would have in Wales. 

Only a pilot on this scale would see Wales lead the world in testing out this transformative policy. A Universal Basic Income could be our generation’s NHS, and we have a chance to lead the way right here in Wales.  

Watch this space.  

Jonathan Rhys Williams is the co-founder of UBI Lab Wales and a solicitor at Watkins and Gunn.  

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