Sadiq Khan backs post-crisis universal basic income to aid recovery

Sienna Rodgers

London mayor Sadiq Khan has backed the idea of a universal basic income to aid economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis – despite UK Labour not supporting the move.

In an email sent this afternoon to party members in the capital, Khan referred to a “new settlement that offers proper security for all” that he said “should include ideas like a universal basic income”.

In the context of the UK social security system “buckling, he described the UBI proposal as one that is “gaining support around the world and would ensure everybody can at least survive”.

When Keir Starmer’s spokesperson has been asked about a recovery UBI, as advocated by other opposition parties and Labour MPs such as Clive Lewis, no support has been expressed for the move.

“We agree that the Covid crisis has confirmed that the current social security system isn’t fit for purpose,” the spokesperson said, pointing out that Labour has called for a “series of urgent actions” as a result.

Labour has demanded that the government implement emergency changes to the much-criticised Universal Credit system, such as increases in the standard allowance and an end to the five-week wait.

But on UBI, the Labour leader’s office has remained vague on future policies, saying only: “Creating an entirely new social security system is unlikely to be possible during the crisis.

“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.”

Khan also said in his email that the government furlough scheme currently benefitting 6.3 million workers “will be needed long into the future” – though the Chancellor confirmed on Monday that he wanted to “wind down the scheme”.

Although the London mayor was frank about downsides to the Covid-19 restrictions, he argued that “we shouldn’t look backwards to life as it was before this virus” as it “exposed the fragility in our society and deep flaws in our economy”.

In the straight-talking message, Khan told Labour members: “I want to be honest with you that there will be no return to life as it was before the virus – instead we face a ‘new normal’ even once lockdown is eased.”

Setting out his view of which normal activities may be able to resume and which won’t, Khan added: “We may be able to occasionally see our closest loved ones – but interactions will be limited and for a while there will be no larger gatherings.

“While non-essential shops will be able to reopen after introducing social distancing measures, it is difficult to see how this can safely be extended to bars, restaurants or social spaces in a practicable way soon. And most people who are currently able to work from home will need to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.”

He also warned that Londoners using public transport are “likely to have to use non-medical face coverings”, and that school and work start times “will have to be staggered” to avoid congestion.

Khan confirmed that action will be taken “to enable many more Londoners to walk or cycle”, and noted that these changes in behaviour will have long-term consequences for TfL and other transport providers.

His email concluded: “The Labour Party must be at the forefront of designing the better, fairer and greener city, country and world we want to see once this crisis is over – particularly as we head into the London elections next year.”

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