A SENEDD report has made this week another exciting one for those of us with an interest (some vested, some not) in Basic Income, and the ongoing development of the policy here in Wales.

The Senedd’s Petitions Committee, led by Jack Sergeant MS, released a report on Tuesday on the future UBI pilot in Wales. It follows UBI Lab Cymru’s petition calling on the Welsh Government to widen the scope of the proposed pilot beyond just care leavers to include, in addition to care leavers, people of all ages with different employment statuses – and for it to be based in a geographic location rather than spread across the country.

The Petitions Committee heard evidence from a range of organisations including myself on behalf of UBI Lab, the Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe, Will Stronge of think-tank Autonomy, Lydia Godden of WEN Wales and Ewan Hilton and James Radcliffe of Platform. The consensus among everyone who provided evidence was that the pilot should include a wider range of people.

The Senedd report swiftly follows a report published by Autonomy and the Future Generations Commissioner outlining two pilot models. One model would pay participants £60 a week with no change to the benefits system. The other would pay £213 a week with a complete overhaul of the welfare state. Both of these models would be based in a single urban and rural geographic location (‘a saturation site’) rather than individual participants across Wales.

Unlike the Autonomy report, which included eye-popping statistics like the fact that paying people £60 a week would halve poverty in Wales, the Petitions Committee report was short and sweet. It concluded that the Welsh Government’s pilot should be widened to include a range of different people – failure to do so would be a missed opportunity.

This is precisely what campaigners have been saying since it became clear that the Welsh Government would focus their attention solely on care leavers. It’s not that anyone disagrees with care leavers being part of the trial – quite the opposite.

Many care leavers have been through a huge amount of adversity and they need more support from the state. But focusing on a single group in society, whether it be care leavers, people in employment or people not in work, will not help us understand what impact the policy would have if it were rolled out across the country tomorrow.

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That’s what we need to understand from any pilot. Does giving people a Basic Income in one community – and subsequently the whole of Wales – improve the overall health, educational attainment and economic activity in the area?

We think we know the answer, but we need the data to point at when the naysayers tell us the policy is too expensive and dismiss it as a utopian dream. And if the pilot is botched, then that gives those naysayers plenty of attack lines in any future Basic Income conversation.

The Petitions Committee report made five recommendations:

  1. The Welsh Government should increase the size of the pilot to gather more robust data (as suggested in our petition).
  2. An effective care leavers pilot should include care leavers from a diverse range of backgrounds and locations, and with different circumstances.
  3. Basic Income payments should be made to the individual and not to the household (this ensures women aren’t coerced into staying with an abusive partner who has control over the household income – as can be the case with Universal Credit).
  4. The Welsh Government should make every effort to persuade the UK government to support the widest possible pilot scheme.
  5. The pilot should include a control group and should be evaluated by experts throughout the pilot. They should consider any indirect savings and wellbeing outcomes (such as less strain on the health service if a Basic Income improves physical and mental wellbeing).

 

These are all good recommendations and it’s clear the Petitions Committee understood the points made to them by those of us who gave evidence in November.

But this isn’t a surprise as the committee is led by Sargeant, who is a serious advocate of the policy, and three of the four Senedd Members on the committee signed UBI Lab Cymru’s ‘Pledge for UBI’ in the run-up to the elections last year. No prizes for guessing which member didn’t sign.

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As the report notes, any effort to expand the pilot beyond care leavers will require the co-operation of the UK government.

It’s good to know that the Welsh Government has now had these conversations with their Westminster counterparts. It wasn’t clear that these conversations were ongoing until the Counsel General confirmed this to the Senedd late last year. The Counsel General, of course, is also a keen advocate of UBI and has spoken at events and written blogs for UBI Lab on the policy.

If I were to make one further recommendation, it would be for the Welsh Government to seek co-operation with the UK Labour party.

Keir Starmer’s team doesn’t have to back a UBI. They can be ambivalent about it, and simply say they’re supporting the Welsh Labour government’s decision to run the kind of pilot they want to. And if the results show that the policy does everything advocates say it will then it’s a vote winner. Where’s the risk?

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Sargeant has asked for a response to the report from the Welsh Government by March 2022. Perhaps we could also ask for a response from UK Labour on whether they’ll back Welsh Labour in their ongoing discussions with the UK government around a pilot.

For those of you who just can’t get enough of a good UBI report, more are on the way.

The UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee, which UBI Lab Cymru has given evidence to, will release a report on their inquiry into the welfare state in Wales. It will be interesting to see what that has to say about Universal Basic Income – I’m guessing it won’t be as favourable as the Senedd report.

There’s also a report due that reviews all Basic Income pilots to date that have taken place in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

That review has been commissioned by the International Public Policy Observatory (a collaboration between Cardiff University, Queen’s University Belfast and others) and will be followed by a launch event exploring the report, which will no doubt be very useful for anyone interested in the policy.

Watch this space as the appetite for a UBI continues to grow in Wales and beyond.

Jonathan Williams is the co-founder of UBI Lab Cymru

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