Labour rejects idea of universal basic income during Covid-19 crisis

Sienna Rodgers

The new Labour leadership has rejected the idea of introducing a universal basic income during the Covid-19 crisis, Keir Starmer’s spokesperson confirmed today.

Asked about the proposal following the Labour leader’s first PMQs this afternoon, a spokesperson said: “We agree that the Covid crisis has confirmed that the current social security system isn’t fit for purpose.”

Journalists were reminded that during the leadership election Starmer called for the implementation of a national income guarantee scheme to combat the economic impact of Covid-19.

It was also stressed that the opposition leader has expressed support for the emergency changes made by government to the Universal Credit system, such as increases in the standard allowance.

However, the spokesperson added: “Creating an entirely new social security system is unlikely to be possible during the crisis.”

This view has been advocated by experts such as former Ed Miliband adviser Torsten Bell, now head of the Resolution Foundation, who said UBI now would be “misguided given the pace of what is happening”.

Starmer’s spokesperson concluded: “But as we come out of the pandemic, we’ll be making arguments for a new settlement that is more simple, more effective and offers proper protection to people.”

More than 170 MPs and peers called in March for UBI to be introduced by the government to “give everyone the financial support they need to provide for themselves and their families”.

Labour MPs supportive of UBI include former shadow Treasury team member Clive Lewis, who said: “Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the frayed, tattered and neglected ‘safety net’ of welfare provision…

“Now, as we edge further into the challenges of the 21st century – where automation, climate collapse and pandemics are already upon us – it’s time build a solid floor under everyone. That’s something only a basic income can give.”

Jonathan Reynolds, recently appointed by Starmer as Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is also known to be a supporter of UBI.

Last year, Labour’s election manifesto included the piloting of UBI in select places, with bids submitted from Liverpool and Sheffield among other areas.

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