Employment

Half of Londoners back universal basic income - but Labour-led Assembly blocks pilot

Universal Basic Income has been suggested as a “remedy for poverty” by ensuring every person has enough money to live on.

As a core idea, UBI is universal and would be given to everyone in society, regardless of income, whether they are employed or otherwise or where they live. Image: Flickr / Sean MacEntee

Half of Londoners support a universal basic income (UBI), a new poll has found – but proposals for a trial in the capital have been rejected by the Labour-led London Assembly.

Calls for a UBI have grown after the pandemic highlighted the need to build financial security. And a poll by YouGov, commissioned by Green Party members on the London Assembly, found plenty of support – the highest from younger people aged 25 to 49. Of the 1,166 people surveyed, just 22 per cent opposed the model.

A universal basic income is a regular payment that is given to everyone in society to create a minimum income floor. The money is unconditional with no strings attached to dictate how it should be spent. 

But when community-based trials were proposed by the Green Assembly members during a debate on mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s budget, the Labour-majority Assembly voted against them – by 19 votes to four.

The motion was proposed by Green Assembly member Zack Polanski, but Len Duvall, Labour’s leader in the Assembly, shot it down.

He said: “In terms of universal basic income, no. No. We cannot have an open-ended commitment on a pilot scheme quite frankly, at this moment in time where we promote it as a regional authority.

Duvall said he would be happy to debate the idea, and that he would like to see a trial take place at a national level – but not regionally.

Polanski replied: “This is the time we need to make this happen. We are in a crisis. I agree with you – we need it nationally – but we are not MPs, we are not in charge of the government. This is the London Assembly and we have a Labour mayor so this is an opportunity to get this done.

“And how do you think clinical trials work if they’re not testing to find a remedy? And the remedy here is for poverty.”

Following the meeting, Polanski added: “Introducing a national basic income needs a change of policy from government, but we can act now to show the value of this idea in London and the benefits to people on low or precarious incomes.”

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Labour’s London Assembly economy spokesperson, Marina Ahmad, told the Big Issue, that the Assembly was not saying no to the idea of a Universal Basic Income in principle, however there are concerns that a local pilot in London would not be effective.

“We have to be realistic- City Hall’s devolved powers and funding are too limited to roll out an effective pilot on a regional level. If it is to be done properly, this is something that has to be enacted by national Government.

I suspect this is why my colleague on the Assembly proposed this through a non-binding motion rather than a proper budget amendment. This meant he didn’t have to produce a plan or spell out how it could be actually funded and implemented by City Hall, when it has no control over the welfare system,” she said

The London Assembly’s Economic Committee heard last year that a £75-a-week income could slash child poverty by 40 per cent. Green London Mayor candidate Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat assembly member Caroline Pidgeon brought the idea of a welfare shake-up to the London Assembly’s economic committee in January 2021, but committee members decided not to vote on the motion.

The Welsh government is set to pilot universal basic income in a trial focusing on people leaving care. UBI Lab Cymru have recently published their recommendations for the pilot, suggesting that the Welsh Government consider increasing the size of the pilot to gather more robust data.

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