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Sheffield backs basic income pilot

Sheffield City Council has passed a motion giving its support to a pilot of Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the city. In an amendment to a motion on the local economy, the Council said it “believes the Universal Basic Income has the potential to improve wellbeing and provide a boost to our local economy.”

The amendment was tabled by two Labour councillors, Ben Curran and Dawn Dale. The Labour group holds an absolute majority on Sheffield City Council.

Labour backs radical and progressive idea

The announcement followed the backing given to the idea of piloting of basic income in England by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who announced that the next Labour government would launch UBI trials in Sheffield, Liverpool and the Midlands. The announcement was covered in The Mirror and The Guardian here:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/labour-pilot-universal-basic-income-15258572

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/12/labour-would-trial-universal-basic-income-if-elected-john-mcdonnell-says

John McDonnell has been a long-term ally of the movement for basic income and he had recently welcome a major report by Guy Standing which set out the social and economic case for basic income. The Guardian covered the launch of the report here:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/07/labour-backed-report-urges-trials-of-universal-basic-income

UBI Lab Sheffield

Part of the reason for selecting Sheffield as a pilot site is down to the work of UBI Lab Sheffield. Launched by the City's Festival of Debate, the UBI Lab group is a large and active group which has promoted grass-roots discussion of the merits of basic income while also developing detailed proposals for piloting basic income. UBI Lab Sheffield has designed three options for a local pilot in its proposal. Each pilot would see around 4,000 people in Sheffield receive a form of UBI for three years.

  1. The first option would remove conditionality from a specific set of employment-related illness and disability benefits. Ill or disabled people would then receive these benefits irrespective of their financial situation or work status.
  2. The second option would see a flat-rate top-up payment made to all citizens. The pilot would include a range of residents, with a flat-rate payment to all participating adults of £130 per month. It would not mean any changes to the current tax or benefit system.
  3. The third option would trial a full replacement of the tax and benefits system. The pilot would see a range of residents receive £6,000 per year, plus additional money for people who are disabled, with children, or over retirement age.

Launched on 9 March at a UK-wide summit for UBI activists in Sheffield, the proposal has been designed by Sheffield-based academics and researchers, including the Centre for Welfare Reform, and was informed by several workshops with local citizens.

Jason Leman, Chair of UBI Lab Sheffield, said: 

“Sheffield has a long history of leading radical change, from the Chartists through to the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. We don’t know if a Universal Basic Income is the answer to the problems we face, but a pilot will give us the much-needed evidence about what works. Having a real safety net seems to help people’s health and wellbeing. It helps people who are looking after their family and it could also give people the confidence to retrain, volunteer or become entrepreneurs.”

Sam Walby, Director at Opus Independents, one of the founders of the UBI Lab Sheffield group, said:

“Today's announcement is a validation of the tireless campaigning and advocacy that UBI Lab Sheffield has been doing since the group was formed at Festival of Debate 2017. No one is saying a UBI would solve all our problems, but with serious challenges like the automation of the workforce on the horizon, as well as blatant injustices and inequalities within the current benefits system, we need to be testing the effects of UBI right now. It's an idea whose time has come.”

UBI Lab Sheffield now aims to build support for a pilot among key stakeholders in the city, including Sheffield’s two universities and its NHS trust.

The full pilot proposal and executive summary is available on the UBI Lab Sheffield website:

https://www.ubilabsheffield.org/s/SheffUBI-proposal-working-paper-FINAL.pdf

BBC Politics Live debate

Following the announcement by John McDonnell Dr Simon Duffy of UBI Lab Sheffield and Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform appeared - briefly - on the BBC Politics Live programme to discuss the issue. During the programme he clashed with a Conservative MEP who seemed to think that there was no problem with poverty in the UK.

Dr Duffy commented:

“These are very exciting developments and it is great to be part of a movement which reflects Sheffield's radical history and commitment to social justice. But we still have a very long way to go. The UK Government is now in denial about the existence of extreme poverty in the UK - despite severe criticism from the United Nations. ideas like basic income are in conflict with a culture of stigma and scapegoating in which some politicians seem to revel. But we will only make progress if we are prepared to challenge this nonsense directly and to offer radical, hopeful and practical solutions. In my view basic income is an idea whose time has come.” 

If you want to join UBI Lab Sheffield please visit:

https://www.ubilabsheffield.org

If you are interested in launching a UBI Lab in your community please contact us by email.