How do we tackle the real problems we face?
The lives we live are becoming more insecure. People can no longer expect to have a stable career from which they get the security of continuous employment with a guaranteed pension in retirement. People may have to re-skill several times over their working lives and yet education is increasingly costly. Meanwhile others are caught between the demands of a precarious labour market and the need to care for relatives.
As some people are worn down by the pressure to survive, others are driven to sacrifice their wellbeing for financial success.
Levels of economic inequality are at an all-time high. There is an increasing gap between the lives led by those at the top and those struggling. The current social contract is failing and although many want to do something about this they feel powerless to change things.
Technological advances and the rise of the gig economy continue to destabilise and disrupt traditional labour markets. Society and labour are more fluid, placing strain on communities.
All of these issues have an impact on our wellbeing, regardless of where we sit in the ‘foodchain’. A society that causes stress and resentment at every turn has negative impacts on health, violence, prejudice and isolation.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
The current system of social support is broken. People on low-to-middle incomes actually receive most benefits, not the poorest. For people receiving out-of-work benefits, finding work means losing nearly as much money as is gained.
The system penalises couples who choose to live together and people in fluctuating employment. Sanctions and administrative delays have led to a significant rise in poverty and hardship, including for many children. Benefits are stigmatised, with £14 billion going unclaimed by those who need support.
No one can avoid what’s going on. No matter where you are on the ladder, all of the issues we face are connected and intertwined. We’re all affected by them and we need to realise that when others suffer and struggle, we all do.
Regardless of your independence, your life is dependent on others.
Regardless of your means, your life will be impacted by economic inequality. Regardless of your position, your life will be impacted by human potential being unrealised.
WHERE DO WE GO NEXT?
We are not unique in this predicament, but do stand to lose significantly if we are not at the forefront of finding new ways to address these issues that tackle the real problems at their source, here on our own doorstep, actively engaging in being part of developing the solutions, rather than waiting for others to fix things.
We need to test how a Universal Basic Income (UBI) could improve stability and security through fluctuating employment and the changing realities of work in Sheffield.
We need to investigate how a UBI could help rebalance the system for those most in need, redistributing wealth more fairly and significantly cutting poverty, particularly child poverty across our city.
We need to assess how a bureaucracy-free universal payment that goes to support every individual, whether they are in paid work or out of it, would reduce the stigma of benefits.
We need to explore how reducing constant stress and uncertainty affects physical and mental well-being, changes behaviours and benefits our communities, no matter what the postcode.
WHAT’S THE IDEA?
A Universal Basic Income or citizen’s income is a system in which everyone in society, poor to rich, gets a regular payment, replacing means-testing of welfare and benefits.
The UBI LAB Sheffield pilot is designed to investigate whether a Universal Basic Income is the means to provide welfare state reform. The principles are that it should be:
Fair: significantly reducing poverty and acting to address income inequality
Efficient: replacing most benefits to reduce bureaucracy
Democratic: allowing people to contribute to their community
We need to be testing UBI now, because as a recent advocate for a pilot in the US said:
“Basic income isn't about a scary future where robots run everything […] It’s about today, when working people can't afford rent.”
~ Michael Tubbs, Mayor Stockton, California
Sheffield is a city of communities: Sheffield is as much a constellation of towns as a city, with some of the wealthiest and poorest areas in the country.
Sheffield is a city of makers: UBI supports entrepreneurship, providing unconditional support for people who need the freedom to explore new ideas and take risks.
Sheffield is an innovative city: Sheffield has the skills to run a successful UBI pilot, with two major universities and extensive public and third sector expertise.
Sheffield is a city of change: Artificial intelligence and job automation is changing the face of labour as we know it, with Sheffield leading the way in these areas.
WHY A PILOT?
Evidence: There have been several pilot UBI schemes introduced around the world. There is also evidence from some historical trials. However this evidence has not always been robust or in a context relevant to the UK.
Discussion: A UBI pilot would contribute to the discussion and public awareness of the tax and benefit system, particularly around how the system works, where money goes, conditionality, and possible alternatives.
Immediate benefits: Based on previous evidence, a UBI pilot should reduce poverty and improve well-being for many of those involved in it. This presents an opportunity to make an immediate impact on a communities in Sheffield.
The Sheffield model proposed replaces the benefit system at the current level of payments, with a lower payment for children and a higher payment for pensioners. People who are disabled would get payments equivalent to those made currently. It would also substitute personal tax allowance with an equivalent universal payment.
The key aims of the pilot are to explore:
Precarity: evaluating the impact on workers in precarious employment, rates of entrepreneurship and re-skilling
Inequality: evaluating the impact on health and social wellbeing, both individually and across a community
Poverty: evaluating impacts on poverty and the services supporting those in poverty, including state and third-sector bodies
Community: evaluating impacts on community, through individual relationships and activities, and wider social cohesion
Dependent on funding, the pilot will incorporate either purely qualitative, or both qualitative and quantitative components. The funding range is from around £0.5m for a small study exploring mechanisms to £30m for a full study.6