Council backs motion calling for Universal Basic Income pilot
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Councillors in Gwynedd have backed calls for the county to become a pilot area for universal basic income (UBI), offering residents a non-means-tested fixed sum paid by the government to cover the basic cost of living.
Such a state financial support system, which would replace the traditional benefits system and is said to ensure “a level playing field for all”, would see all residents be eligible – whatever their situation and whether they’re employed or not.
Under the system – which has been trialed in other countries – citizens are handed a sum of money from the state to cover the basic cost of living.
It is paid to all individuals, regardless of their personal circumstances, wealth, employment or personal status.
Proposing the motion, which will now be delivered to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Chancellor and other influencial politicians, Cllr Elin Walker Jones said that Gwynedd would be “ideal” for such a trial.
The Plaid Cymru member for Bangor’s Glyder ward added her belief that such a system would tackle the impacts on employment prospects and household incomes post-Covid, as well as other factors, such as Brexit, future automation and artificial intelligence.
“The UK’s benefits system is an inefficient beast with even the UN critical of it, claiming it goes against human rights,” she said.
“We know of people in Gwynedd who don’t claim what’s owed to them as the system is so complex, with around £16bn of pension credit not being claimed annually, leaving many in a vulnerable situation.
“Valuable money is being wasted on means testing and applications, with research showing that almost as much was spent in 2018/19 on researching fraud and mistakes compared to what was eventually recovered.
“Would it not be better to support people than persecute them?
“There are also many people who work but still find it impossible to make ends meet.”
Her motion was seconded by Cllr Mair Rowlands, but not all members were supportive.
Labour member Cllr Sion Jones said: “I’m against the idea. It doesn’t take an economics student to figure out that if you hand out money to everyone then inflation will shoot through the roof.
“I’m glad we have a government in Wales that doesn’t support such a thing and would ask you to take this a bit more seriously.
“The economy would be destroyed with the price of a loaf of bread being £5.”
But support was forthcoming from other sides of the divide, with Liberal Democrat Stephen Churchman adding: “Why should the risk of inflation keep poor people poor? I think we need to level the playing field and support people on low incomes.
“Yes, there are dangers, but what’s being proposed is a pilot. We should make it work if we can.”
A version of UBI was trailed on 2,000 people in Finland in 2017/18.
The results of a study into that scheme – which did not provide enough money by itself for people to live on – found that the participants were “more satisfied with their lives and experienced less mental strain”.
The motion was backed by 35 votes to one, with nine abstentions.