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Push for basic income as crisis leaves more facing poverty for the first time

Motion sees Islington become the first local authority in London to support trial of UBI idea

18 December, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Green councillor Caroline Russell

ISLINGTON has become the first council in London to pass a motion calling for a basic payment to be given to everyone whatever their situation.

Councillors passed a motion asking the government to allow the Town Hall to trial a “universal basic income” ­– UBI ­– as a measure to protect low-paid workers struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The debate comes after the Tribune revealed the number of Universal Credit claimants soared by more than 9,000 from March 11 to midway through April, as the lock­down started and businesses and firms shut down.

By June the figure doubled to 28,112 and there are concerns the numbers will keep growing.

Green Councillor Caroline Russell proposed the motion at a full council meeting last Friday, telling members: “All of us will know from our casework inboxes how many people have had their lives truly shattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are worried they may be made redundant, worried for their loved ones, worried about paying bills when they are receiving a fraction of their normal wage and struggling to make ends meet, and worried where on earth they may find their next job.”

UBI was once seen as a fringe political idea but has gathered momentum in recent months and years after trials in Finland and campaigns in Liverpool, Brighton and Norwich.

Sam Gregory from the UBI Lab campaign group, said: “A huge number of people have realised how close they are to falling into destitution and poverty. We have seen huge numbers of people this year never thinking they would have to apply for Universal Credit and now the are. It is suddenly relevant to a lot of people.”

It has been estimated that implementing a UBI in the UK would cost the government around £67billion per year.

Mr Gregory said: “In government spending terms it isn’t an absolutely enormous amount. It’s affordable for a rich country like the UK. I would say it is expensive but worth it for a better society.”

Cllr Russell said: “There are understand­ably questions that people ask about how it would work in practice. That’s why a trial is so important.

“There would be huge savings. People who get Universal Credit have to prove they’re allowed every single penny of it. They spend so much time checking people’s eligibility that if everyone got this basic payment and then you start paying tax on anything you earn above that, it would become part of the overall tax system and would make sure everyone has that income they can rely on.”

Islington Council leader Labour councillor Richard Watts said: “The government are not offering any trials at the moment so I don’t think we should get our hopes up. However, we can all agree the current welfare system is broken and it could be that a UBI with some work is a potential solution.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday (Thursday) extended the furlough system until April.

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