Jane Dodds

At this May's Senedd elections I am making Basic Income a key part of the Welsh Liberal Democrats campaign

I have been a proponent of Basic Income for many years and was delighted when it was adopted as party policy at last year's conference. That moment was the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people within our party who believe that Basic Income is a policy that combines the best of liberalism: faith in individual agency combined with the power of central government to be a force for equality and fairness.

But we also knew back then that the hard work was only just beginning. We still had to go out to the country and tell the British public about our vision for a Basic Income. We are starting that process in Wales at this election.

Basic Income is a simple idea with potentially far-reaching benefits. Simply put, it proposes to pay every individual an amount of money, regularly and unconditionally, from the moment they are born to the moment they die.

A Basic Income has five core characteristics:

  • It’s paid in cash: it’s money you can spend on whatever you want.
  • It’s paid regularly: so you know when the next payment is coming.
  • It’s for individuals: Each person gets their own basic income, paid to the individual not the household.
  • It’s unconditional: You don’t have to work or make any promises to get your basic income, there are no strings attached
  • It’s universal: everyone gets it.

I believe that putting even small amounts of money in the hands of low- and middle-income people all across Wales could have a transformational effect on our communities.

Wales currently faces a number of decades-long and deep seated problems:

  • It is the poorest nation in the United Kingdom. A quarter of the population of Wales (700,000 people) lives in poverty.
  • It has one of the highest in-work poverty rates in the UK (14%), meaning that even people who are working, often full time, find it hard to make ends meet.
  • 31% of Welsh children live in poverty. This is the highest rate of child poverty in the UK and this number has not budged in the last 20 years.
  • The benefits system is also failing to alleviate poverty: of the children living in poverty, over seven in ten live in a family in receipt of income-related benefits.

(Sources: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Welsh Government)

These statistics show, starkly, that over decades countless government programmes and initiatives costing millions of pounds have failed to make even the smallest amount of difference to the lives of a third of the poorest children in Wales. Money is being spent pushing paper around instead of ending up in the pockets of those who need it.

They also show that even work is not necessarily the way out of financial insecurity. The average salary in Wales is £25,000 per year, with many living on much less than that. We need a boost for people to spend more and feel more secure.

The Covid pandemic has widened inequalities in Wales and thrust more people into precarious financial situations. It has also shown us how interdependent we all are: Our well being is tied to that of our neighbours, rich and poor alike.

The tax and benefit system is failing us. It is time to try something different.

That is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for the rollout of a Basic Income pilot across our nation, based on the above five principles and funded by central government. We believe this will not only alleviate financial insecurity but that a well designed pilot will be able to measure other benefits of a Basic Income, such as:

  • Increased levels of business creation, as more people are able to take the risk of creating businesses in the knowledge that they have basic financial security to fall back on.
  • Increases in mental well-being and reductions in the use of medical services. Financial insecurity is a major cause of stress and anxiety, which in turn lead to a wide variety of other medical conditions. Giving people a measure of financial stability through a regular Basic Income will lead to less pressure on the NHS.
  • Greater community cohesion, as large numbers of individuals with basic financial security are able to pool together and help each other.

Big crises, like Covid, often present big opportunities. We should seize this moment and make Basic Income a lasting legacy to future generations, in the same way that the NHS was the legacy of the post-war generation. That is why we are calling Basic Income "Our Generation's NHS".

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