Wales needs to explore paying everyone a basic income: Open Letter to First Minister

Monday July 26th, 2021

This week WEN Wales joined fellow Universal Basic Income advocates in signing an open letter to First Minister Mark Drakeford calling for a UBI trial that is representative of the Welsh population.

Catherine Fookes, WEN Wales Director, said: “A Universal Basic Income pilot in Wales is an exciting opportunity to examine how UBI could be used as a Wales-wide tool to tackle poverty and reduce stigma around benefit claimants. UBI could potentially have a profound impact on closing the gap on gender inequality in Wales. Let’s blaze a trail in Wales with an ambitious pilot that gathers evidence on the impact of UBI on a demographically representative sample, so that we can see the effects on everyone in Wales.”

Read the letter in full below.

Dear Mark Drakeford, 

We write to you following the recent announcement that the Welsh Government will pilot a Basic Income. We would like to express our gratitude to those involved in taking the decision to test a policy that could transform the lives of current and future generations for the better.  

We understand you are considering a pilot that will involve young people leaving care. While we agree that care leavers need more support, we’re concerned that confining the pilot to a particular group won’t provide the evidence needed to understand the impacts of a Basic Income for all.  

Instead, we advise you to consider a ‘Care Leavers Plus’ pilot that includes a demographically representative sample of the entire population, as well as care leavers. 

A geographically-based UBI pilot would allow you to collect the necessary evidence on how the policy would impact Wales if it were introduced tomorrow.   

We already know from past pilots in Finland and Stockton, among others, that a Basic Income significantly improves recipients physical and mental well-being, with evidence of less frequent visits to hospitals, better mental health outcomes and reduced demand on services in later life. Indeed, the recent report published by Public Health Wales: ‘A basic income to improve population health and well-being in Wales’, confirmed the policy is likely to have the same impact here if it is implemented in the right way.  

A more ambitious pilot that includes a demographically diverse sample could test what effects the policy has not only on people most in need, such as those experiencing child poverty, of which Wales has the highest rate in the UK, but the effects on everyone in Wales.  

This kind of pilot could test what impact the policy has on older people. We may find that it provides them with the freedom to retire with their dignity. We may also learn more about the impact a Basic Income could have on gender equality issues like women disproportionately providing unpaid care work for their loved ones. 

The pilot should interact with our welfare system. As the pandemic has demonstrated, our current system is not fit for purpose and it can keep claimants locked into poverty. Only by including a range of people can we show there is a better way to guarantee economic security for everyone.   

A poll by Survation, published in March 2021, found that 69% of people in Wales think we should pilot a Basic Income. 25 Members of the Senedd signed UBI Lab Wales’ Pledge for UBI ahead of the May 2021 Senedd Elections. We are in no doubt that those surveyed and those who signed the pledge want to see a pilot that reflects the whole of Wales.  

We understand that any wide-ranging pilot will require the cooperation of HMRC and the UK Government Department for Work and Pensions. However, you have a clear mandate to make the case for a substantive pilot – you must use it.  

We encourage all Members of the Senedd to talk to people in their communities this summer about how a basic income could better support them long-term, so that they can return from the summer recess ready to meaningfully engage in the Basic Income conversation.   

Wales could pioneer the next universal policy that cares for everyone from cradle to grave; as it did with the NHS over 70 years ago. If that is to happen, we must get this pilot right.  

We look forward to working with Welsh Government and others in the coming months to achieve this ambition.  

Yours sincerely 

Jonathan Rhys Williams (Co-founder of UBI Lab Wales) 

Sophie Howe (Future Generations Commissioner for Wales) 

Professor Guy Standing (Co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network) 

Cerys Furlong (Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg) 

Catherine Fookes (Director of Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales)