Welcome to UBI LAB: Sheffield

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Post by ~ Jason Leman

UBI LAB: Sheffield is an experiment. It aims to operate as a combination of social movement and research group, to gather evidence on whether a Universal Basic Income could be a positive model, and to question why our system of work and welfare is structured as it is. Our proposal for a pilot UBI scheme in is a key part of this; however, other strands from education to public information will run alongside it.

The idea of a Universal Basic Income interests a broad spectrum of people. Within UBI LAB: Sheffield there are some convinced of its merits, and others sceptical. Each of us has a view on the greatest benefit that a basic income might bring. Our mission is not evangelical, but exploratory.

The concept of a UBI LAB is also exploratory. We hope to stimulate new thinking about how to explore the idea of a Universal Basic Income. We are creating a brand and resources that we hope will be useful to others, either following our model or in forging another path. There is no guarantee the UBI LAB: Sheffield model will be successful; however, without experimenting we will never learn.

There are many reasons why a Universal Basic Income might be a useful concept to explore. To help set out some of what UBI LAB: Sheffield is doing, I’ll expand on one here.

Sheffield is a divided city. The often hidden separation of work, culture and social life that divides Britain is reflected in the geography of Sheffield. Unusually for a large city it remains defined by the prevailing winds of industrial development. The smoke from the factories marked the north and east as housing for the workers. The cleaner south and west, bounded by countryside, were for the professional class. This distinction remains.

This division is reflected in different politics and experiences across the city. Views on what the relationship between state and individual should be are split. Many people will not see a need to redefine the social contract with the state. They will be unaware of the impact of precarious or fluctuating employment, reductions to welfare, the bureaucracy of social support. Many of the problems a Universal Basic Income might usefully address are invisible to the majority of citizens. To reach out across the city may need a different question. Simply: why do we do the work that we do?

Few people on their deathbed, reflecting on a life lived, wish they had spent more time at work. Human fulfilment and meaning is most often found in relationships and personal creativity. Many kinds of paid work include some opportunity for this, but too often people find themselves working to live or living to work. There is too little opportunity to find life within work, or be able to explore life outside of paid work.

A Universal Basic Income might allow people to create more fulfilment and meaning in their lives. There would be greater choice over the paid work that we do, and the activities done outside of paid work. The idea raises the potential for a different future and a different way of living. However, Universal Basic Income is not a utopian medicine. Lottery winners are little happier than those in poverty. The addition of money changes the relationship between the individual and paid work, but human flourishing does not happen in a vacuum. The role of community, relationships, support and guidance are likely to be central to realising the potential of UBI. If UBI raises the question, it does not provide the answers.

UBI LAB: Sheffield has been created to both raise questions and inform answers. The project will involve learning about the real whilst looking towards the possible. I hope you will join us on the journey.


More about the author

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Jason Leman - Sheffield Equality Group

Sheffield Equality Group is an autonomous group affiliated to The Equality Trust, which aims to reduce the gap between rich and poor in the city of Sheffield.


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