Andy Burnham has suggested that the government should consider introducing a universal basic income to “address health and economic resilience” and aid the country’s recovery from coronavirus.
The Greater Manchester mayor talked to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning about how the government can support communities with a large proportion of people in low-paid and insecure work.
Burnham said that the pandemic had revealed how “hugely unequal” the UK is, and argued that many people “simply were not able to protect their own health because of their poor working conditions”.
On the furlough scheme, he urged government: “Don’t let that become a cliff edge in October. It’s likely you will have to extend that scheme or adapt it to help people stay in work and to fulfil the original purpose of the scheme – which is to keep jobs.
He added: “It’s towns in the Midlands and the North that are being singled out today as being potentially being hardest hit… There’s too many people in those places in low paid, insecure work – people who couldn’t take time off work if they had symptoms because they knew they wouldn’t be paid.
“And I would urge the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to address this issue of health and economic resilience in some of our poorest places. I think they should be talking about a real living wage across the country and also potentially even a universal basic income.
“Because what we have seen with this virus – it’s been very clearly exposed – it is hugely unequal our country, and there are some people who simply were not able to protect their own health because of their poor working conditions.”
In May, London mayor Sadiq Khan also backed proposals for a universal basic income to aid economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis – despite UK Labour not supporting the move.
The Labour leadership had rejected the idea in April – a spokesperson for Keir Starmer said: “Creating an entirely new social security system is unlikely to be possible during the crisis.”
170 MPs and peers wrote to the Chancellor in March, calling for an ’emergency universal basic income’ in the pandemic – to “give everyone the financial support they need to provide for themselves and their families”.
Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto included proposals to pilot the policy in several towns and cities across the UK, with bids from Liverpool and Sheffield among other areas.