In Wales, like the rest of the UK, we are seeing increasing homelessness and food bank usage. The UK Government continues to roll out a Universal Credit system that will exacerbate this poverty. No compassionate politician can resign themselves to worsening poverty. We need to look for progressive solutions and to continue our opposition to government policies that demonise the poor.
One possible solution is a Universal Basic Income (UBI), an idea that has been the subject of much debate across the political spectrum, including within our own party. UBI is a conviction that people seek purpose, and – if given the opportunity and freedom – will usually make the best decisions about their lives – a great Liberal principle. It must be a conversation about how we live, not just how we earn.
Opponents of UBI argue that it would damage economic growth by leading fewer people to work, but I think this view underestimates people. Money is only one factor driving us to work. I suspect that most who work primarily for money would take UBI as an opportunity to make more money, rather than not work at all.
While many would likely choose to work less, this is not necessarily bad. They may do so to spend more time with their family, achieve a better (and healthier) work/life balance, upskill themselves, undertake charity work or care for loved ones.
This does not mean there aren’t challenges surrounding UBI, the most significant being whether a UBI generous enough to be worthwhile could still be affordable. There is also the challenge of how it would be funded.
That is why I’m so keen on piloting UBI to find out just how practical an idea it is. Apart from one major research study in Canada between 1974 to 1979, showing decreased hospitalisation rates, lower contacts with practitioners for mental health concerns and more young people staying on in schools, there is little evidence on the efficacy of UBI. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are proud to be an evidence-based party, and I would seek to establish as large an evidence base as possible on the likely impacts of UBI before a discussion on it as policy.
Various UBI trials are ongoing in Finland, Barcelona, Hamilton in Canada and Scotland, with a further study in California expected next year. We should carefully monitor and consider the results of these trials, but I also want to create an evidence base in Wales. I’d like the UK Government to allow willing Welsh councils to pilot forms of UBI. Through trials in Wales and hopefully across the UK, we’ll gain the needed evidence on the effectiveness and affordability of UBI.
I’d like to finish with a quote from someone involved in the pilot in Hamilton, Canada:
“Basic income has given me the freedom to live with some dignity with little extra money to buy the essentials in life. I want to make the most of this opportunity and work up to a full-time job eventually – I feel much more in control of my own life.”
Surely this is the type of compassionate and liberal approach needed to fight poverty and improve well-being. A system that improves lives allows people to live in dignity and gives everyone a little more control over their own destiny. I hope it is a system we will one day see working in Wales.
Jane Dodds, Leader, Welsh Liberal Democrats