Norwich Council passes Green motion for universal basic income

Against the backdrop of a developing economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new approach is called for. To address this, a Green Party motion calling on the UK Government to pilot a universal basic income in Norwich has been passed by the city’s council. The proposed pilot, championed by Norwich Green Party councillor Jamie Osborn, would see the payment of a fixed income to all citizens who need it.

Norwich cathedral.

Siggy Nowak

Lidia Creech

A Green Party motion calling for a government trial for a universal basic income (UBI) for citizens of Norwich, regardless of employment status, wealth or marital status, was passed unanimously by Norwich City Council at a debate that took place yesterday (21 July). 

This action comes in response not only to the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic, but also to the existing financial struggles of Norwich citizens, with numbers of people claiming the Universal Credit benefit doubling from just over 3,000 in March 2019 to over 7,200 in March 2020. 

Following the motion, the Greens are calling for a UBI that is enough to cover the basics of life in dignity. While studies of pilots around the world have ranged from £500-£850 a month, with a feasibility study in Scotland calling for a UBI of just over £200 a week for working-age adults, the level of income will ultimately depend on available funding and specific aims for Norwich.

Commenting on the impact of the pandemic on UK citizens, Green Party peer Natalie Bennett said “The economic crisis is only just getting started, but the Government is already turning its back on millions of people. The furlough scheme is winding down, and job losses have started gushing like a burst pipe, with hundreds of livelihoods down the drain every single day.

“We need a universal basic income to ensure that nobody is left high and dry. By ensuring that every single one of us has enough to meet our basic needs, we have a better chance of weathering this storm together. The Government should agree to this trial in Norwich so they can see for themselves how effective it will be."

Advocates of a UBI argue that the current means-tested benefits system is “inefficient and full of loopholes that mean many people are denied support”. These loopholes apply to those who are unpaid carers and those who have savings but no stable income, among others. Greens argue that these people, as well as small and independent businesses, should be able to rely on a UBI. 

Norwich Green Party councillor Jamie Osborn said: "I’m delighted that Norwich councillors have today unanimously supported the Green Party proposal for a universal basic income. Even before lockdown I was appalled by the number of people in my ward who were humiliated and excluded by our current benefits system, and that number is only going up.” 

In May, Councillor Jamie Osborn initiated UBI Lab Norfolk, a collaboration between organisations and individuals to campaign for the pilot of the basic income in Norwich. With the outcome of yesterday’s debate in favour of the UBI trial, Norwich’s Green councillor looks to the future potential of a UBI, commenting: “A universal basic income would not only provide security, it would mean hope for thousands of people in the city who have been excluded by benefits stigma and sanctions.”

Adding to the social advantages he envisages a universal basic income will bring, Jamie Osborn highlights the importance of bolstering Norwich’s unique arts scene and community networks, saying: “This motion is also about looking longer-term at the kind of society we want. A universal basic income would mean people can spend more time on education and training, or starting their own business, and it would be vital for the arts.  

"Norwich is also such a vibrant city with a unique arts scene and amazing community networks, and a UBI would support that. I see a lot of hope in the way that this idea is being taken on."

“With this motion Norwich has recognised the society-wide benefits of a UBI, and we’ll now be working with other local and national organisations to get the Government to listen."