Highlight on the UBI Debate (Part 1): The Case for a Care Leavers Plus Pilot

In response to Harry Thompson’s piece on the Basic Income Pilot, Jonathan Rhys Williams, co-founder of UBI Lab Wales, champions a wider-ranging Care Leavers Plus pilot.

This is the first of two articles written in response to Harry Thompson’s recent article: ‘Basic Income Pilot: Mark Drakeford’s Controlled Experiment’. Both explore different sides of the case for a Universal Basic Income, or UBI.


A Universal Basic Income (UBI): a policy that provides a guaranteed income to everyone regardless of their wealth, income or employment status – no questions asked. 

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, no UBI pilot will be universal. But we can design a trial that reflects the universalism that is a central feature of a Universal Basic Income. 

It’s a little surprising that Harry Thompson’s recent article states the announcement to trial a UBI in Wales “caused enthusiastic campaigners to raise their expectations and the Welsh Government-wearied to raise their eyebrows”. 

In his first interview, after making a passing comment on UBI in the Senedd, the First Minister said the following to journalist Emma Grant:

“We’ll test whether the claims that are made are actually delivered when you have such an experiment… we’ll do it on a cross-party basis with other parties in the Senedd… there are 25 members of the Senedd in different political parties who have expressed an interest in it. I want to do it on a broad basis and design the best possible pilot that we can.”

Drakeford indicated that he will invite Senedd members who have expressed an interest in UBI to help shape a future pilot. The final sentence suggests the pilot will be wide-ranging. 

But this has not transpired. Instead, we have a proposed pilot without any input from the 25 Plaid Cymru, Welsh Liberal Democrats and Labour backbenchers who supported our ‘Pledge for UBI. The policy is being designed behind closed doors with a clear focus on one cohort of people: care leavers.

While any UBI pilot is welcome, the current proposal is not wide-ranging and it isn’t the best possible pilot. Campaigners across Wales have worked tirelessly to get this policy front and centre of the political conversation. It should come as no surprise to learn we are disappointed that the proposal put forward by our ministers have not matched their words.  

The pilot currently proposed by the Welsh government is not a UBI pilot – or anything close to it. 

That doesn’t mean that what the Welsh government is proposing is not a good thing – care leavers need more support. But it isn’t what the First Minister described in his comments to Emma Grant. That’s all that UBI campaigners are pointing out. 

It’s no secret that Wales lacks the necessary powers to launch the pilot we propose. But the Welsh government appears to have no appetite to make the case to Westminster that they should be able to run a more comprehensive pilot. 

As a trainee solicitor, I worked on claims brought on behalf of care leavers. I know exactly the kind of adversity that led them into the care system. I have sat in tears reading medical and council records of claimants. The stories I read were gut-wrenching and they will live with me for the rest of my days. 

Syniadau uchelgeisiol, awdurdodol a mentrus.
Ymunwch â ni i gyfrannu at wneud Cymru gwell.

For Harry Thompson’s article to suggest that campaigners are ignoring the impact the policy could have on care leavers is quite frankly insulting. 

Most care leavers have faced adversity their entire life and they need added support. This is why UBI Lab Wales, the Future Generations Commissioner, WEN Wales, Chwarae Teg and Basic Income Earth Network wrote to the First Minister in July urging him to design a ‘Care Leavers Plus’ pilot. It is why we have set up a Senedd petition asking the general public to support a pilot that includes children, the employed, the unemployed, pensioners and care leavers. 

How one arrives at the idea that we’re ignoring care leavers when the pilot we’ve proposed is literally called ‘Care Leavers Plus’ is nonsensical.  

It’s no secret that Wales lacks the necessary powers to launch the pilot we propose. But the Welsh government appears to have no appetite to make the case to Westminster that they should be able to run a more comprehensive pilot. 

A trial confined to a single group of people will only be able to measure a limited range of outcomes. It will not help us understand what impact the policy could have in Wales.

Maybe the Welsh Labour government are worried that they don’t have the backing of the UK party. But that circle doesn’t quite square when you consider the First Minister’s actions during the pandemic. He was courageous in making the case for Wales, regardless of what was coming from HQ in London. What’s changed? If anything, the recent landslide performance at the polls should embolden him to be more radical with his policies.

A pilot that includes a range of people could measure the impact the policy could have on educational attainment and school performance, poverty, entrepreneurship, health and well-being, community cohesion, employment and so much more. 

Gofod i drafod, dadlau, ac ymchwilio.
Cefnogwch brif felin drafod annibynnol Cymru.

 

A trial confined to a single group of people will only be able to measure a limited range of outcomes. It will not help us understand what impact the policy could have in Wales if it were rolled out tomorrow. Isn’t that the whole point of testing a policy?

Wales may only have one shot at this pilot, so we must get it right. If the design is faulty and the results are not what we would hope for, the likes of Peter Fox will use it as ammunition – as will some members of the Labour Party. A poorly designed pilot could put the policy back a generation. 

That’s why the Welsh government mustn’t rush the design of the pilot. They should listen to Beth Winter MP, Sophie Howe, Jane Dodds MS, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, Luke Fletcher MS, Catherine Fookes and so many others who want this pilot to reflect modern Wales

If the First Minister and his team get this pilot right, the impact could be intergenerational. It could be the first step towards a Universal Basic Income becoming our generation’s NHS. 

They say history has a funny way of repeating itself. Like NHS founder Aneurin Bevan before him, Mark Drakeford’s legacy could be a policy that cares for people from cradle to grave – no questions asked. He simply has to make the case for it. And if he fails, at least he can say he tried, which is all we’re really asking for. 

If he succeeds, he will stand alongside Labour giants like Atlee and Bevan who transformed society for the better, forever. 


All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Jonathan Rhys Williams is the co-founder of UBI Lab Wales and a solicitor at Watkins and Gunn.

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