Westminster won’t implement a basic income to get us through this crisis – but Wales should
Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for Mid and West
Later today I will be taking part in the first virtual Senedd. One of the issues I want to raise with the Welsh Government is the importance of introducing an emergency Universal Basic Income to help people during this public health crisis.
The help that has already been made available to businesses and to individuals by the UK and Welsh Governments is of course welcome. But there are still too many falling through the cracks. The people losing livelihoods because they are being laid off, employers either can’t or won’t make use of government support, the people who have recently become self-employed and have no tax records to show.
This includes self-employed people who can’t wait until June when they’ll get paid the support on offer from the UK Government.
People who have to walk away from jobs because their employers are pushing them to work when they know they need to self-isolate. We need some support that works for them. Plaid Cymru’s call for an emergency Universal Basic Income would ensure everyone has guaranteed financial security for the duration of the Coronavirus crisis.
Basic income is an idea that has been advocated across the political spectrum for many years. It can go far in addressing the current uncertainty.
Key elements of a Basic Income are that it is:
- Basic: A minimum payment, sufficient to meet basic needs
- Universal: Paid to everyone, based on rights of residency
- Unconditional: Without conditions, and non-withdrawable, irrespective of other sources of income
- Individual: Assessed and paid individually (including to children) rather than by household
And, of course, it’s taxable, so if anyone claims it now, in this time of crisis and their circumstances improve later they will, effectively, pay it back.
We know Westminster is not willing to do this, another example of why Westminster doesn’t work for Wales.
This is an opportunity for Welsh Government to do something really innovative and imaginative to help Welsh citizens most in need. Surely they are not going to rely on a Johnson-led government in London to solve all our problems even at such a time of acute need.
My email inbox is full of people contacting me because the current support just doesn’t work for them. Some of them are desperate.
We estimate that a Universal Basic Income at median income would cost £247m for a whole month for the Welsh Government (with backdated payments to the 1st of March 2020). This could be paid for by drawing down Welsh Government fiscal reserves as well as borrow the funds.
In times such as this, what we need now more than ever is an ambitious and innovative plan that gets to the heart of the issue. The patchwork of plans we have now is just not working.
As an earlier article by Tegid Roberts for Nation.Cymru has pointed out paying a Universal Basic Income could prevent a future collapse of the Welsh economy. It is right that we act now, rather than wait for an economic crisis.
A temporary basic income will ensure that individuals can pay their bills, put food on the table and feel secure in what is an unprecedented time.