With prominent business and government leaders backing calls to implement Universal Basic Income (UBI), the idea is receiving high levels of coverage and interest in Wales. But what is UBI? How might it work, what might be the benefits, and is this something that could work in Wales? All these questions and many more were examined at the recent joint RSA Wales/Cymru, RSA Scotland and Indycube event.
We held the event at the brilliant Pop Factory in Porth, a hive of local activity and a perfect backdrop for the debate and conversation that ensued. With a history as the birth place of the drink dandelion and burdock (more of this later!), it has evolved into a real community space.
The day was structured around different speakers and opinions. We started by looking to the future with two essays written by Sally Hughes and Mark Barry. Sally’s essay was a Future Vision with hope for a more sustainable local life. Her reflections were bounded by the importance of storytelling and a plea for balance, optimistic thought, and imagination about what the future could be. Mark reflected on the impact of having watched David Attenborough’s “Climate Change the Facts”, the radical changes we have to make in almost every aspect of how we live, particularly our economic and transport choices.
The follow up discussion from the floor highlighted questions, such as: Can we develop an economy for the future? How do we turn around outdated responses to new challenges, global supply change and challenges? How can a sharing economy work? The discussion also explored supporting people in communities to start with behavioural change to prepare for the future, Timebanking was given as an example of a positive initiative but even with this the biggest challenge is often that people lack confidence and the challenge of how you can to engage everyone in community. Issues of choices and trust rung through the reflections and seem key to embedding the concept of UBI.
The next session was led by Mark Hooper (Indycube founder and co-organiser) he reflected that he found the most energy to be found in places that are furthest away from power and asked, how do we find a two-way street between top down and bottom up approaches?
Barb Jacobsen (Basic Income UK) spoke about her experiences as a single mother in London and commented that UBI is a chance to decommodify our time and give further value to a care centred economy. A counter-view was tabled by Dyfrig Jones, who commented that we have the evidence that what works to deal with poverty and inequality is a well-functioning market economy with social security system funded by progressive taxes. He commented that a focus on centralisation and innovation have led us astray.
The feedback from this session was wide-ranging and reflected on different sections of society and communities in Wales and how lack of money and inequality over many years has shaped the population. However, one participant mentioned “Wales the right size of country to try something new.”
Next we heard from Guy Standing, founder member and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). He outlined how basic income can battle the 8 giants of a faltering economy: 1) inequality 2) economic insecurity 3) debt 4) stress 5) ever growing precariat 6) robots 7) the threat of extinction from global warming and the ecological catastrophe 8) populism, further detail here or from Guy’s talk at RSA. He gave a shout out to Wales and how he’d love to see a Welsh community design a pilot UBI project.
The final session of the day was hosted by Jamie Cooke (RSA Head of Scotland) who outlined the recent pilot project that has taken place in Fife. RSA Scotland have been at the forefront of developments and conversations around UBI since 2016. In 2017, the First Minister of Scotland announced feasibility studies and this government support was a significant change. The RSA undertook research in Fife with Omidyar Network ensuring that people were at the heart of the research especially those experiencing the recent introduction universal credit. The report from that research can be read in much more detail here. Jamie’s clear message was that the work Scotland has been done can be translated and built on in a Welsh context and in turn will strengthen the work in Scotland. There is a huge space for Wales to be a leader on this issue.
Whilst raising a Dandelion and Burdock glass to Universal Basic Income and the future we pondered on next steps for Basic Income in Wales, what as a group could we take forward? The responses came quick and fast: storytelling in all forms to spread the word; seek links in civic society; keep talking about it; connecting on social media; ask people what UBI would mean to them; create a wiki; more debates/talks; talk to teachers/educators; connect to global discussion; make sure the conversation is informed; share resources – www.Basicincome.org and www.citizensincome.org; how to include all areas of society in debate and conversation; involve town/local council; place-based saturation experiments to reinforce the ‘universal’; and emphasise the fit with Wellbeing for Future Generations Act allows a lot of freedom.
We’re ticking some of the ‘what next’ suggestions here with this blog providing a report of the event, a Twitter moment of the event, and linking to resources for Basic Income. We are looking at exploring many of the other suggestions in the weeks and months to come. Please do get in touch if you are interested and keep an eye out for updates.
Thanks goes out to all those involved in organising the event, particularly Mark Hooper FRSA, Jamie Cooke and Sophie Freeman.