Could universal basic income go into Labour’s 2019 manifesto?

Elliot Chappell

The chances of Labour moving towards the adoption of a universal basic income policy look more likely than ever, as John McDonnell has confirmed that he will push for a pilot scheme to be included in the new manifesto.

Asked about UBI in an interview with The Independent published on Sunday, the Shadow Chancellor said: “I’ll be submitting into the draft for consideration by Clause V that we have a pilot.” He noted that the final decision would be made at the ‘Clause V’ meeting.

The meeting that determines which parts of the party programme go into Labour’s next manifesto is set to be held on Saturday. As explained on LabourList, it comprises national executive committee members, relevant shadow cabinet members and senior trade union representatives.

One of the bids on the table will be a trial of UBI, which offers a regular payment from the state to every citizen – regardless of their income or employment status. Proposals for the payment range from between £50 per week for every adult to £100 per week for every adult and child.

On the implementation of the pilot, McDonnell explained: “We’ve had bids from Liverpool, Sheffield, a couple of other places. Sheffield have really made a big pitch for the UBI, a pilot, but there are a few other places as well. They are the ones really that are willing to look at how they can tackle poverty.”

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, is known to be a supporter of UBI. In 2016, he wrote: “Moderates within the Labour Party shouldn’t be afraid to embrace radical ideas. I’m coming out for Basic Income.”

The MP for Stalybridge and Hyde recently commented: “There is definitely an appetite for that here in the North of England, where many areas have experienced deindustrialisation, insecurity and increased deprivation. I’m looking forward to being part of the conversation.”

Ed Miliband and Thelma Walker are among the Labour MPs who back the idea of trialling UBI in the UK. They are joined by a new regional network called ‘Basic Income North’ – composed of campaigners, policy experts and politicians – that has been created to promote the policy.

UBI has been a hotly debated topic within the Labour Party, with arguments for and against being offered by contributors to LabourList. Critics of UBI have argued that the would be expensive and is based on the unreliable assumption that unemployment is set to increase.

But studies of UBI trials in Finland and Canada show participants to have improved mental and physical health, and that the schemes did not result in people working less. A modest basic income scheme already exists in Alaska, where all citizens receive an annual dividend of around $2,000 a year from the state’s oil profits.

Pro-UBI campaigners have said there is growing support for the idea across the North, and local groups dubbed ‘UBI Labs’ have been established in Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds and Kirklees to explore the proposal within communities.

Labour activists and the wider public will only know which of the policies put forward ahead of the upcoming general election are to be backed by the party following the ‘Clause V’ meeting on Saturday and subsequent release of the manifesto.

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