Vote on trial of universal basic income delayed in City Hall

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A vote on whether or not to recommend a trial of universal basic income (UBI) in London has been delayed following a meeting of the London Assembly.

Any decision on a potential UBI trial will now likely have to wait until March after the Assembly’s economy committee opted not to hold a vote, having put questions to expert guests.

The motion was originally introduced at a previous meeting of the Assembly by Green Party AM Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pigeon, where it was passed to the economy committee for consideration.

Both Ms Berry and Ms Pigeon said they were “disappointed” with the committee’s decision to postpone the vote given the depth of discussion.

Sian Berry AM said: “I am very disappointed that Assembly Members have again decided not to vote on what my motion proposed. We should be leading the way not putting things off. With support for a basic income growing fast, the London Assembly should be acting now to explore how it works on the ground, and for London to be part of trials, given the unique challenges Londoners face.

“Close to a third of Londoners live in poverty; even before the coronavirus crisis our city had the highest poverty rates in the UK. More people than ever are affected by insecurity and poverty and, as we work on the recovery, we need to look hard at the fundamental flaws that the crisis has exposed in our system.”

If the motion had passed, the Assembly would have formally recommended that the Mayor of London write to Government to call for a pilot of UBI in London and to work with local authorities to help with the tests.

Caroline Pigeon AM said: “I was disappointed that the London Assembly Economy Committee postponed a vote on the motion Sian Berry and I presented on trialling universal basic income in London again, despite a full and wide-ranging discussion on the topic with invited guests.

“There’s no better time to trial UBI than now, with many Londoners struggling due to the devastating economic impact of the Covid pandemic.

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“Labour members had already taken the highly unusual step of deferring our motion to the committee and for Labour members to then postpone it further at committee stage is disappointing to say the least.”

Having heard detailed information from guests about the benefits and downsides to UBI, the committee took the unusual step of taking a vote on whether the motion should be voted on.

With the committee split three votes apiece, Chairman Leonie Cooper used her deciding vote to opt against voting on the motion, instead outlining a plan to first write to the Treasury and local councils for more guidance after meeting with the leaders of all parties.

Universal basic income involves regularly providing every adult in the country with a basic income, regardless of their employment status or other factors.

Proponents of UBI argue that it provides people with a “floor of security” or “safety net” that could help reduce poverty and encourage people to pursue work or personal interests without risk.

Daniel Mermelstein of UBI Lab London, one of the guests at the committee meeting, suggested that implementing UBI could have a “significant impact” on reducing poverty, with some modelling showing that providing a £60 to £75 a week income to all citizens could reduce child poverty by as much as 40 per cent.

However, there are concerns over the feasibility of implementing such a big change, with questions over affordability and what changes would need to be made to existing tax and welfare systems.

While there have been trials of UBI, most recently in Finland, there has never been a “true” pilot of UBI on a large scale.

In October 2020, 520 elected representatives from across the UK signed a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling on him to provide support for pilots of UBI in different regions.

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