Preston wants to try out giving regular cash payments to residents

Preston has set out its stall to trial a system that would give every resident a regular basic cash payment - whatever their wealth.

By Paul Faulkner
Sunday, 31st January 2021, 6:05 pm
Updated Sunday, 31st January 2021, 6:10 pm

The city council has declared that it wants to become the first in the UK to pilot a “universal basic income” (UBI) - and is calling for it to be one of the demands in any future discussions with the government over a Lancashire devolution deal.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat groups on the authority backed a motion requesting that Preston be allowed to test UBI - but the city’s Conservative group branded it “unworkable and unaffordable”.

Under the system - which has been trialed in several other countries - citizens are handed a sum of money from the state to cover the basic cost of living. It is paid to all individuals, regardless of their personal circumstances.

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Preston City Council wants to trial a universal basic income

Labour councillor Carol Henshaw, who made the call for Preston to explore whether UBI would work in the UK, said: “Nobody should ever have to choose between the essentials needed to survive - shelter, food and warmth should not be optional.”

She said that it would not be a “vanity project” for the city - and would have helped the three million people estimated to have been excluded from government support during the pandemic.

The Liberal Democrat group put forward an amendment, accepted by Cllr Henshaw, stipulating that UBI should be in addition to - and not a replacement for - existing targeted benefits.

“A job for life is never going to be a job for life anymore - so the ability to retrain and not have to worry about whether you are going to be able to pay your mortgage while you go through some massive life-changing event, is fundamentally key to improving the lives of Britons today,” said Lib Dem group leader John Potter, who nevertheless stressed that key questions such as UBI’s cost were one of the reasons a trial was needed.

However, Conservative group leader Sue Whittam said that the figure was already known - with full UBI for the UK thought to swallow up £67bn per year.

“I wholeheartedly agree that people need to be supported and given the same chance and life opportunities as others - [and] that the benefits system is far from perfect and there need to be changes. But I don't see this as the solution.

“It’s not affordable - would people be prepared to give up their income tax-free allowance or would higher tax rates apply?

“Does a basic income diminish or enhance the incentive to search for paid work and be entrepreneurial?

“I think the public are in favour of a welfare system that incentivises work and focuses financial support on the most in need and most vulnerable in our society,” Cllr Whittam added.

The motion supported by the council states that UBI would provide employers with “a more flexible workforce” and show that the country valued the unpaid work of volunteers and those caring for relatives.

It also says that UBI should not be measured solely by its impact upon the take-up of paid work, but also its effect “on communities and what the people within them do - how they feel and relate to others and the environment around them”.

A version of UBI was trailed on 2,000 people in Finland back in 2017/18. The results of a study into that scheme - which did not provide enough money by itself for people to live on - found that the participants were “more satisfied with their lives and experienced less mental strain”.

Some of those who took part said that they were prepared to take low income jobs that they may otherwise have refused, while others said it allowed them to pursue life dreams.

Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that decisions about UBI came down to political choices, such as that made to “bail out” the financial system in the late 2000s.

“[UBI] will give people freedom. We have got one life on this planet and we should, to some degree, enjoy it while we are here and take control of our destinies - and the best way of doing that is through UBI,” Cllr Brown said.