TWO lawyers from Swansea want the city to trial a form of guaranteed income which would be paid to a sample of the population, without conditions.
Ciaran Sturge and Lowri Walters back a pilot of universal basic income (UBI), which would involve the Government paying people a sum of money every week, even if they had a job.
They were convinced of the scheme’s merits by another lawyer, Jonathan Williams, who is pushing for a wider trial in Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Ceredigion and Gwynedd, as well as Swansea.
Ideally, he would like UBI to be paid to 10,000 residents across the six counties for at least two or three years.
UBI supporters say the scheme, which has been trialled in Finland, gives people more incentive to re-train, set up new businesses, look after relatives while not losing out financially, and stay in education.
“It’s something that’s really new to Lowri and I,” said Ciaran.
“Jonathan approached us this year with a view to setting up a UBI lab in Swansea.
“I had reservations at first and, like a lot of people, asked how would it be paid for.”
After reading up on the subject, Ciaran said he was persuaded that UBI seemed “the right and sensible thing to do”.
He added: “It helps put money into the local economy.”
He and Lowri said Labour councillors they had approached in Swansea were receptive to the idea.
The duo would like the council to consider a notice of motion proposing a UBI trial, which they hope would then catch the Senedd’s attention, especially if similar motions are passed by other councils.
Family solicitor Lowri said she dealt with victims of domestic abuse who lacked the financial independence to make a fresh start. There were single mothers, she said, who struggled with travel costs.
“We are both from Swansea and we practise in Swansea,” said Lowri. “It is close to our hearts.”
With the UK Government’s furlough scheme tapering off next month, and ongoing fears that automation is encroaching on sectors traditionally occupied by humans, some people feel UBI’s time has come.
Jonathan said the Second World War had helped give birth to the NHS.
Citing the colossal challenge currently presented by Covid-19, he said: “We think UBI could be our generation’s NHS.”
He suggested a weekly payment of between £80 to £150 to people on a trial. It should not be means-tested, he said, and could replace welfare payments except for housing and disability support.
The big question is how the Government could fund UBI.
Giving 10,000 people £80 per week for three years would cost just under £125 million.
In Jonathan’s view, that’s not a significant amount given the vast expenditure to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
But it’s still only 10,000 people.
Jonathan said the evidence to date was that UBI improved people’s physical and mental well-being, which had a positive impact on the public purse. And it was simpler to administer, he said, that Universal Credit.
The Finland trial involved 2,000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 receiving 560 euros per month, with no strings attached.
The study, according to a report in the New Scientist magazine, compared the employment and well-being of UBI recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits.
Those on UBI worked a little bit more than those on benefits, and reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future.
But the study also noted that, at the time, the Finnish Government had made the conditions for accessing unemployment benefits stricter.
Critics of UBI say it would take resources away from people who needed support the most, and result in less spending on public services.
There is also the ethical question of people with jobs receiving it, and whether employers might be tempted to pay lower wages.
Welfare payments are a UK Government responsibility, which complicates the picture in Wales.
Jonathan said the UBI lab movement was a collaboration of organisations, individuals and policy-makers.
Asked how the 10,000 people he would like to see in a trial would be chosen, he replied: “It’s a conversation we are having at the moment. Hopefully, next year’s Census will help.”
He said he, Ciaran and Lowri were involved on a voluntary basis.
Lowri said: “We are the lucky ones with a voice. We can make a difference.”