Councillor and deputy mayor Ruby Cox makes the case for Universal Basic Income and invites you to a debate.

You may recently have seen news items about Universal Basic Income in the mainstream media such as the Metro, a sure sign that the concept is at last being taken seriously and not just as some wild utopian pipe dream.  This is hardly surprising when you look at our failed benefits system and the increased levels of poverty in places like Hastings, where Tory rhetoric about “levelling up” can readily be seen to be failing our residents daily. 

In recognition of this, in July last year Hastings Borough Council passed a motion, with cross party support from the Green Party, committing us to work with the UBI Lab Network to explore ways to promote and expand the concept of UBI with reference to Hastings, and campaign for UBI trials to be held in this country in the near future.

CREDIT: Nick Fewings/unsplash

What is UBI and how is it relevant to Hastings?

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a regular, non-means-tested sum paid by the state to cover the basic cost of living. It’s paid to all citizens individually, regardless of employment status, wealth or income.

UBI is the fairest, most effective way to mitigate the effects of coronavirus on people’s incomes and to start to repair the terrible damage done to society during the pandemic.  It would also mean huge savings to the DWP, which currently employs 95,000 people administering the fabulously overcomplicated means-tested benefits system which still manages to leave £16 billion in benefits unclaimed every year.

Universal Credit is a punitive system based on bullying people to spend 35 hours a week looking for jobs that don’t exist, and the five-week wait (which is supposed to emulate waiting for your first pay cheque) guarantees that individuals are already in debt before they get their first payment, which is insufficient to live on.  It is a recipe for disaster, despair and the destruction of people’s lives. Being part of the movement to introduce UBI is surely one way we can fight back and take practical steps towards an improved quality of life with guaranteed income security.

A network of UBI Labs has been set up which work with local authorities across the UK to develop UBI proposals to address problems such as poverty, inequality, discrimination and environmental damage – all issues that have a profound effect on the people of Hastings. 

UBI could:

• Give employers a more flexible workforce whilst giving employees greater freedom to change their job and reject bad work;

• Value unpaid work, such as caring for family members and voluntary work;

• Remove the negative impacts of benefit sanctions and conditionality;

• Give people more equal resources within the family, workplace and society; 

• Enable greater opportunities for people to work in community and cultural activities or to train or re-skill in areas that will be needed to transition to a low-carbon economy.

Clearly UBI would resonate in different ways with different groups of people, bringing different benefits according to their circumstances. For instance, for those seeking employment it would give them the chance to retrain or undertake further education, without the threat of benefits sanctions if they do not spend every waking moment looking for low-paid insecure jobs that do nothing to develop their skills or their career.  For carers, it would mean their work is valued and they do not have to expend their energy constantly form filling to prove their eligibility for whatever meagre benefits are on offer.  For this reason, the UBI network is organised not only into geographical areas, but also into thematic labs such as UBI Lab Youth, UBI Lab Women, UBI Lab Arts, UBI Lab LGBT+, UBI Lab Disability and UBI Lab Food.

What could UBI mean for Hastings?
CREDIT: Kai bossom/unsplash

The gains to our health and therefore to our NHS must also be taken into account.  Removing the stress of continual worry about loss of employment and having no money to pay the rent would have enormous benefits: people would have the breathing space to find fulfilling work and to gain in self-confidence and self-respect as a result. A more fulfilling life means a happier, healthier individual, and happier, healthier communities as a result. The list goes on and on.

So, what about cost?

The standard argument against UBI is of course the cost, but one recent study, based on data from the 2014/15 UK Family Resource Survey, has shown that UBI could virtually eliminate poverty in the United Kingdom at a cost of £67 billion per year, or just 3.4% of GDP.  This would provide a UBI scheme of £7,706 for adults and £3,853 for children.  To put this into context, according to a 2015 piece in the Guardian, the UK spends over £93 billion per year on corporate subsidies and tax breaks. If so, the UK could entirely fund a UBI by eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes. No increase in individual taxes would be necessary, and the government would still have £26 billion available for corporate subsidies.

All these are just ideas as to how UBI could work and what benefits it could bring.  What level UBI should be set at and how it could interface with the current benefits system to ensure e.g. that disability benefits, are protected are important issues that need thorough investigation. What we need are, of course, trials, and I know of at least two taking place in the UK at the moment, with another in Ireland. They are very limited in scope but they are at least a toe in the water, so now is the time to demand full immersion!  As a ward councillor for Central St Leonards, it makes me angry and frustrated to see how people struggle with their daily lives through no fault of their own, and to know how much better their lives could be with just minimal financial security.

If you’ve read this far, you want to know more and hopefully have plenty of questions, so please get in touch. We’re planning to have a public meeting (on Zoom) very soon, where we’ll have a speaker from the UBI Labs Network and an opportunity to take this idea forward in a way that’s relevant to you and your situation. We’ll also be creating a Facebook page where we will publicise other events and post UBI-related news. We look forward to hearing from you!  

To register an interest in joining the Zoom meeting about UBI in Hastings, please email Cllr Ruby Cox on [email protected]

Ruby Cox is one of the councillors for Central St Leonards, Vice-chair of Planning, the Older People’s champion and Deputy Mayor. She used to work in local government in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Originally from London, she has lived in Hastings six years now, has been an active trade unionist (UNISON) all her working life
and is now secretary of East Sussex retired members’ group.

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