Calls for Universal Basic Income trial in Mendip

Mendip could host a Universal Basic Income trial, in a bold bid to beat poverty and inequality.

Councillors keen to see a pilot introduced believe it would tackle the inevitable impacts on employment prospects and household incomes following fall-out from the Covid pandemic and other factors such as Brexit, future automation and artificial intelligence.

A Universal Basic Income (UBI) offers a non-means-tested fixed sum paid by the state to cover the basic cost of living, which is issued to all residents regardless of whether they work, or are unemployed, or are rich or poor.

Members voted in favour of the cross-party motion which was brought to Full Council on Monday (22nd February) by Leader of the Green Party, Cllr Shane Collins, and seconded by the Leader of Mendip District Council, Cllr Ros Wyke.

Cllr Tom Killen, Conservative Party Group Leader, did not support the motion. Although not against UBI in principle, he felt its introduction "could come at an unsustainable cost and could lead to dramatic unintended consequences, penalising those who everyone hopes to help and who may actually suffer a fall in income."

He said: "I feel uncomfortable paying money to everyone regardless of wealth. This could lead to inflation, cancelling any gains, and could lead to difficulties for businesses as work may be seen as optional for some."

However, Cllr Shane Collins argued: "In a time of COVID, Brexit, Artificial Intelligence, the gig economy and Climate Emergency, the amount of paid jobs are shrinking and with 5.8 million people on Universal Credit and often falling through the net, now is the time for a UBI trial in Mendip.

"UBI for all would simplify and replace benefits such as Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits and work alongside housing benefit and carers allowance, with additional UBI payments for groups of people who experience barriers to working, including disabled people, single parents and people of pension age.

"UBI would also offer basic financial security for all people at a time when it is needed more than ever."  

Cllr Ros Wyke added: "Certainly our economy is fragile as we come out of Covid, and the impact on people will be felt right across the board.

"I do believe our society is changing, and given its history of social innovation, wealth of expertise, and active networks across community, business and public services, Mendip is ideally placed to pilot a UBI."

The motion having been carried, Mendip District Council's Chief Executive, Stuart Brown, and Cllr Wyke will now draft a joint letter, alongside the other party leaders, to open up a dialogue with the Government and urge them to consider Mendip for a UBI pilot scheme.

The radical proposal has been widely debated across the UK in recent months, with similar calls for UBI trials to reduce poverty and inequality gaining traction, and cross-party support, in cities such as Sheffield, Bristol, Oxford, Birmingham, Lewes, and Brighton and Hove.