Is Newport next in line for a UBI trial?

“There were already six Labs in Wales by this point. What about my city? Where was Newport’s Lab?” Deputy Leader of Wales Green Party Lauren James describes the progress of the UBI pilot in Newport and across Wales.

Newport city centre hero

Newport city centre, Llemiles (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Lauren James

The pandemic has truly been the crisis of our times. In the UK, around 150,000 people dead. More than 600,000 jobs lost. A leaky safety net in the form of furlough, the evictions ban, and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, which for so long left more than 3 million business owners with no support. I was one of them: in the early stages of the pandemic when my largest client, a festival, scaled back my hours to the bare minimum, I was left reliant on my overdraft and credit cards. Did we need to have these piecemeal packages of support, which left so many falling through the cracks? Or could we have had something better?

Universal Basic Income, a longtime Green Party policy, has hit the mainstream with a bang. The premise is simple: a regular, unconditional payment to every adult and child. It would replace almost every benefit, save means-tested top-ups for housing and disability. The idea was dismissed by other parties as laughable just six years ago, when we included it in our 2015 General Election manifesto. Now almost every political party in Wales is backing it after pressure from fresh-faced campaigning newcomers UBI Lab Wales, part of the larger UBI Lab Network established in Sheffield in 2016.

Founded last year by Jonathan Williams and Liam Richards, UBI Lab Wales has truly changed the course of the welfare debate in Wales. They’ve worked with Members of the Senedd to pass a symbolic motion backing a UBI trial in September of last year. Their campaign to get candidates for the forthcoming Senedd elections to back a UBI pilot has received more than 100 signatures from all corners of the Welsh political sphere. Well, except the Conservatives, Reform UK and more minor right-wing parties. 

In less than a year, they’ve helped to found seven regional labs (with more imminent), three of which have passed council motions backing a UBI pilot. Hugh Thomas, leader of Cardiff Council, wrote to the First Minister asking him to consider Cardiff for a UBI trial after being lobbied by UBI Lab Cardiff. The newest regional lab, UBI Lab Newport, was founded by myself and local campaigner Pollyanna Sheehan.

UBI Lab Newport was born after Shaun Thomas, the first Green Party member in Wales to co-found a lab (Rhondda Cynon Taf) set up a meeting between myself and the UBI Lab Wales gang to discuss ways in which we could collaborate. After the initial pleasantries were exchanged and we got the small talk out of the way (they’re in this because they want to save the world? I say that to myself all the time! These are my kind of people) came the big question. There were already six Labs in Wales by this point. What about my city? Where was Newport’s Lab? 

“Why don’t you start one?” came the answer.

You see, UBI Labs are always founded by local people, or in the case of labs such as UBI Lab LGBTQ+, people from the communities they represent. So a few months later, having found my wonderful co-founder Pollyanna from Feed Newport CIC, and in the midst of election craziness and what feels like a million other things, we had lift-off! Within days of launching, Labour candidate for Newport West Jayne Bryant signed the pledge, and the Senedd pledge campaign hit their target of 100.

It’s no surprise to me that taking a Universal Basic Income out of the party political arena is what is required to get politicians to take it seriously. When an idea is seen as the sole property of one political party, the bitter partisan divide often takes over. It’s been refreshing to work with colleagues from across the progressive political spectrum on this campaign, proof that it is possible to put division aside and just get the job done. Collaboration over competition, that mantra of Green Party values, must take root.

This is a turning point – not just for UBI but for society as a whole. But it’s not just up to elected officials to get the job done. It’s up to all of us to push for the Wales, or indeed the world, that we want. So if you want to join the campaign for a Universal Basic Income wherever you are – lobby your candidates for the Senedd, Holyrood and the locals to back a UBI trial. Check to see if there’s a lab in your area. If there isn’t, get in touch with the UBI Lab Network and ask to set one up. After the year we’ve all been through, it’s clear that society can’t wait for elected politicians to catch up. So neither must we.

Lauren James is the deputy leader of Wales Green Party. You can follow her work on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Follow UBI Lab Wales and UBI Lab Newport on Twitter