Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
The replacement of the welfare system with a sum of money paid to everyone, irrespective of their means, has been endorsed by Swansea councillors.
They supported a motion which backed the concept of universal basic income (UBI) and the value of trialling it, potentially in Swansea.
The motion suggested that the current welfare system was failing, and that UBI could address inequality, poverty and precarious employment by giving workers greater freedom to change their job, valuing unpaid work and removing the negative impacts of benefit sanctions.
It said the success of a pilot UBI should be measured by its impact on communities as well as uptake of paid work.
It did not address the cost of UBI, but Cllr Mary Sherwood, who put forward the motion, said pilots were needed to develop the concept further.
Cllr Sherwood said she felt the current welfare system was confusing and degrading, with many people not claiming money to which they were entitled.
She said: “The pandemic has shown that providing people with financial security does not encourage fecklessness or laziness.
“It frees them up to care for their loved ones, support their communities, pursue training and personal development.
“In UBI pilots elsewhere, employment has actually increased, along with people’s health, confidence and motivation.
“Psychologists will tell you that people want to work.”
She said there was also concern about the effect of increasing automation on jobs.
Fellow Labour councillor Louise Gibbard seconded the motion. She said UBI would need to be carefully thought out, as while the idea was simple “the practicalities are not”.
Liberal Democrat opposition leader, Cllr Chis Holley, said he supported the principle of UBI.
“Universal credit was supposed to have been a one-off payment that would get people out of this horrendous benefits system, but it has been under-funded,” he said.
“I think bringing in UBI would actually start to level society off.”
Conservative councillor Will Thomas said UBI was an interesting concept to debate.
He said objections on the grounds it would be unaffordable were misplaced because Governments which issued their own currency could not go bankrupt.
But he accepted there was a danger it could lead to inflation.
He also asked what would happen to people who worked in the welfare system.
“Personally I think there should be a bit more meat on the bones,” he said.
Council Leader, Labour’s Rob Stewart, said UBI would allow the UK to build a better and fairer society.
“There’s going to be a cost if we go ahead with this, but we are already paying a very, very heavy cost for not doing things like this at the moment, and we all seem to be fine with that,” he said.
“But there is a social cost of being in poverty and not fulfilling your potential, so let’s be brave, let’s endorse this, let’s support this motion.”
Cllr Alyson Pugh also backed the motion, saying the number of people claiming universal credit in Gower had risen by 120% since the coronavirus crisis. She said the increase in Swansea East was 61%, and Swansea West 59%.
“We have not seen anything like this in our lifetimes,” she said.
No councillor voted against the motion, but five abstained.
The council will send a copy of the motion to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, opposition leaders, First Minister Mark Drakeford and Swansea and Gower MPs Geraint Davies, Carolyn Harris and Tonia Antoniazzi.
Rounding off the debate, Cllr Sherwood said the UK was a very wealthy country, which could do better.
Responding to Cllr Thomas’s query about people administering the welfare system potentially becoming unemployed, she said : “I’m not worried about people in specific sectors losing their job as a result of this.
“I’m excited about the opportunities it proposes for our whole society.”