Social Liberal Forum event: What kind of UBI? Tonight 7pm

As the dust settles from last week’s successful local elections, we at the Social Liberal Forum are already looking forward to the next task: supporting (and challenging!) the Liberal Democrats to develop the best possible UBI policy, and get it adopted at this year’s Autumn Conference.

Working with Lib Dems for Basic Income, we’ve secured the opportunity to host an event with Paul Noblet, who has been chairing the party’s official policy working group. This is due to publish its recommendations and open a short consultation window imminently – and we’ve got Paul to join us and give you a chance to get under the skin of them.

To make the event even better, we’ve also got Jane Dodds, Leader of the Party in Wales and the party’s most prominent basic income champion (see her new video series here), and Christine Jardine MP, who represents the Liberal Democrats on the main cross-party group on UBI, to act as first responders.

They’ll also be joined by Max Ghenis of the US-based UBI Center, who the SLF commissioned to model a radical, “clean slate” approach to UBI in the UK to challenge and inspire the working group during its process. That report is now live and available on the SLF website here.

After our first email about this event two weeks ago, over 150 people are already registered – but with the event TONIGHT, there’s still time for you to join them!

You can register for the event here, and we’ll look forward to seeing you.


* Jon Alexander is a member of the council of the Social Liberal Forum and of Sevenoaks, Dartford and Gravesham Liberal Democrats

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  • Adam Bernard 13th May '21 - 10:04am

    This sounds like an excellent event — a really good line-up of speakers there!

  • Peter Watson 13th May '21 - 11:39am

    @Peter Martin “A UBI might sound to be a nice idea for a manifesto, but would Ed Davey and other Lib Dems actually vote for it?”
    Perhaps they could have a signed pledge to guarantee it.

  • Peter Watson 13th May '21 - 11:55am

    I had the impression that UBI was going to feature in the campaigning in recent weeks, so what was the learning from that? Did UBI go down well on the doorsteps in Wales and Scotland? Was it part of the London and local elections?
    UBI appears to be a difficult sell, even within the party, and presumably a key outcome of this policy development will at least have to be clear unambiguous answers to the obvious questions of how much, who gets it, and who pays. The last one is particularly interesting given Lib Dem strength and targeting among voters who are more likely to be picking up the bill.

  • Jonathan Alexander 13th May '21 - 12:56pm

    @Peter – pretty well is the short answer – as per this piece ft Jane Dodds!
    Longer answer is that the world is shifting significantly on this, as US Mayors in particular are showing. Well worth a look at Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, which has just signed up its 50th mayoral commitment to implementing (not just proposing) some form of basic income:

  • @ Peter Watson “Did UBI go down well on the doorsteps in Wales and Scotland? ”

    I’m not sure anything much went down well in Wales and Scotland, Peter. I do know the single Lib Dem member of the Senate (Leader/Chief Whip/backbencher all rolled into one) is favourable to UBI, and Willie Rennie raised it in the Leaders Debate in Scotland.

    However, as Ms Sturgeon rightly pointed out, Willie would need to get Johnson to support it in Westminster given his present stance on Independence (as he would on rejoining the EU). It is, however, the policy of the Scottish Greens (who have twice as many seats (8) as the Lib Dems (4) and this is one of the reasons they support independence along with the SNP.

  • Interesting to see that a recent survation poll indicates almost three quarters of people in Wales are in favour of a trial paying individuals a basic income.
    A total of 1,039 people were asked by pollster Survation: Thinking about the financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, to what extent (if at all) would you support the Welsh Government trialing a ‘basic income’ scheme, whereby residents in Wales receive a regular, guaranteed, support payment to ensure that livelihoods are protected?
    34% said they strongly support the idea; 35% said they would somewhat support it. Only 6% said they would strongly oppose it.

  • Richard Whelan 13th May '21 - 1:57pm

    I have signed up to tonight’s event at least twice because I have not received any confirmation that my registration has been successful and therefore was worried that I had not registered properly for this event.

    My question therefore is have I registered properly for this event and I will receive a Zoom link via e-mail at some point this afternoon? Or, despite my attempts to register, has this not been received making you oblivious that I was attempting to do so?

    I would be grateful for an answer to these questions.

    Thank you.

    Richard Whelan

  • David Evans 13th May '21 - 2:17pm

    Joe Bourke – I think you may be drawing long term conclusions from a possible solution to what is hopefully a short term problem.

    How most people would respond to that question would be more along the lines of

    “Should the Welsh Government trial a ‘basic income’ scheme as a better short term means of distributing help to people during the pandemic?”

    and many less as

    “Should the Welsh Government trial a ‘basic income’ scheme as a better means of distributing benefits in future?”

    I for one would support the first 100%. The second I am still not convinced is anything like a vote winner.

  • David,

    it is not framed as a short term problem. The poll was commissioned by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
    Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, said:
    “A basic income could tackle current and future challenges including the welfare state’s failure to lift Wales out of poverty, the rise of more insecure models of work (such as zero-hours contracts) and increasing automation posing a threat to some occupations. The Well-being of Future Generations Act gives us the permission to be bold and try new things that could take us towards a healthier and more equal Wales. People in Wales are facing incredible uncertainty as a result of both COVID-19 and the climate emergency – a basic income could be that stronger safety net which keeps people from falling through the cracks of support now and in the future.”
    While a trial, by its nature, is not a permanent solution, it provides the basis for developing one.

    Will Stronge, Co-Director of Autonomy, said:
    “There is a strong appetite amongst the Welsh public for trying out basic income.
    “The COVID-19 pandemic necessitates radical and bold changes to support people through what looks like the worst economic crisis in generations. As the economy and labour market struggles to find its feet, it’s clear that guaranteeing an income floor for all is the most progressive way of securing livelihoods. The time has come for a universal basic income for Wales.”

  • Jonathan Alexander 13th May '21 - 4:01pm

    @Richard – not sure what’s happened there – perhaps check your spam folder? If you definitely don’t have the confirmation, do send an email to [email protected] and someone will assist. Apologies on behalf of SLF!

  • Peter Martin 13th May '21 - 4:39pm

    @ David Evans,

    Yes you’re right. It is obviously a question written to elicit a positive response. Which presumably why there was nothing about extra taxes by way of a further explanation.

    We could draft a question along the lines of “Would you be prepared to pay extra taxes to provide an unconditional and universal basic income to everyone , including the very rich, those who refuse to work, those who earn solely in the black economy and the criminal elements in our society?

    I don’t know for sure, because I haven’t done the research, but my expectation would be that the support level would be somewhat less than Joe’s 69%.

  • Simon McGrath 14th May '21 - 7:28am

    The paper is well worth reading. It proposes to fund a UBI by raising £478bn a year through the abolition of all personal allowances and reliefs and a flat rate 50% income tax. I wonder if its authors have ever actually talked to any voters ?

  • I attended the event last night and was impressed by the progress made by the working group. There’s an honesty that it’s not easy, and an understanding that while the electorate might not quite be ready for something this bold, it is a concept that has growing support and it’s right we make our case for it.

    It’s pleasing that Welsh government are planning some kind of trial, and that the Scottish Government has discovered, thanks to cross-party pressure, it has more powers to do the same than they previously let on.

    Simon – the report you mention isn’t our group. Our report is to be more of a discussion document considering how a basic income could be applied at different levels and the cost implications. There’s a clear acceptance by our working group that there’s no point in having a brilliant proposal if we can’t implement it because not enough people want to vote for it.

    A great moment was Christine Jardine admitting that she is a fairly recent convert to the proposal and apologising for her previous scepticism. However, she made the point that a bit of scepticism and differences of opinion are healthy as scrutiny and debate are essential to the creation of a radical proposal like this. The important thing is that we are on the same side in terms of wanting to make things fairer for everyone, and that we are open minded about how to achieve it.

  • David Evershed 14th May '21 - 11:37am

    Any trial of UBI would also need to trial the cancellation of benefits and raising of taxes to fund the increased payments. Not easy to see how this could be trialled.

  • Simon McGrath 14th May '21 - 12:07pm

    Fiona – apologies if i wasnt clear whose paper it was. Its the SLF one i am referring to

  • Stewart Edge 14th May '21 - 3:15pm

    I’m attracted by the idea of UBI but at the same time very sceptical of how the numbers will add up. In any review of a UBI proposal I’d look for clarity on a) what happens to existing benefits; b) on the marginal tax rates for someone on benefits as they earn more (the 63%+ marginal rate in the Universal Credit system is an ongoing issue); c) the net total (increase in taxes less UBI) effect on representative voters at different income levels. In summary we need to be clear on the effect on benefits and taxes.

  • @Simon, I think we are talking at cross purposes as there are to be two reports and two sets of recommendations!

    I believe you are talking about the report commissioned by SLR, carried out by the research organisation, UBI Center (they are American) designed, according to the blurb, to challenge our thinking.

    The author of that report was on the call last night and was fully aware that their job as an academic group writing proposals is very different to a political group hoping to gain enough votes to implement them.

    The Working Group report also has a report which will be for consultation and was the main topic of last night’s discussion, which is the one I had in mind. It wasn’t quite ready for publication in time for last night’s meeting, but as far as I could tell there’s no proposal for a 50% flat tax rate.

  • Laurence Cox 14th May '21 - 5:33pm

    @Simon McGrath

    I agree with you about your reservations regarding a flat-rate income tax. It has long been a principle in this country that taxation should be progressive; that is the more you earn the higher rate of tax you pay. This proposal would turn it on its head, making the largest source of tax revenue as regressive as VAT is. While, I don’t have any difficulty with people earning £1 million annually paying income tax at a marginal rate of 50p in the £ (it would be 3p in the £ more than they already pay); it seems entirely wrong to impose such a high marginal tax rate on someone whose total income including UBI could still be below the UK median household income of £30,800. Choosing a family of two adults and two children as the reference could mean that others, like single people and childless couples lose out heavily. For example, who are the 4-6% of people in decile 1 (the lowest incomes) in Appendix C who lose more than 5%? The report gives no clue.

    I also find it very disappointing that they have created their own model and not even tested if it gives the same results for the same inputs as established models like EUROMOD. This means that we cannot even take their figures and compare them with, say, the Green Party’s or the Citizens’ Income Trust and have any confidence that they are equivalent.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th May '21 - 6:25pm

    “I also find it very disappointing that they have created their own model and not even tested if it gives the same results for the same inputs as established models like EUROMOD. This means that we cannot even take their figures and compare them with, say, the Green Party’s or the Citizens’ Income Trust and have any confidence that they are equivalent.”
    Without personally knowing anything about other models – it seems ridiculous not to have compared it with others.

  • 1. @ Laurence Cox, “a principle in this country that taxation should be progressive”.

    Indeed. Progressive taxation should be a basic principle for any party with aspirations to be liberal (or Liberal). The principle first began in the 1908 Budget prepared (and introduced) by the new Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith. As a Young Liberal I well remember hearing Asquith’s daughter, Lady Violet, speak proudly about it in the 1960’s.

    2. @ Fiona Sorry, I’m afraid hostility to the SNP is inappropriate this time.

    UBI has a long history, and been Scottish Green Party policy for a number of years.
    According to BBC News (11 June, 2020) Ms Sturgeon welcomed a pilot UBI scheme outlined by the Scottish Citizens’ Basic Income Feasibility Study Steering Group. A pilot will be run for three years by three local councils and, ‘could provide a better understanding of how a universal basic income could impact on poverty, child poverty, unemployment, health and financial wellbeing’.

    The group said, however, there were many obstacles that would have to be overcome. It would require the UK and Scottish governments as well as councils working together. (Ms Sturgeon also made this point).

    Again according to BBC News, 11 June, 2020, “Nicola Sturgeon has said the experience of the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened her support for such a system, telling MSPs in May: “My position on that has gone from having a keen interest in exploring it to what I now describe as active support for it”. She stressed however the constitutional barriers to actually setting one up, saying “we cannot implement it unilaterally in Scotland”.

    Good to hear Christine Jardine is at last listening. For over two years she was impervious to several attempts made by Michael Berwick-Gooding and Katharine Pindar to have a conversation about Professor Alston’s UN Report on Poverty and Inequality in the UK when she was party spokesperson.

  • Any tax system with a tax free allowance in it is a progressive tax system. People who make less than the allowance pay zero of course. And if the rate above the allowance is, just for example, 50%, then people are only paying that marginal rate of 50% above that allowance limit. Meaning that their marginal rate will stay static as their income rises but their average rate will rise asymptotically from zero to 50% as their income rises. We’ve a rising average tax rate: it’s a progressive tax.
    A strict flat rate income tax is neither regressive nor progressive: and a flat tax with a personal allowance is progressive, by definition. The importance of all this being that if we do want to discuss public policy then we do rather need to all be using the same definitions of the words we employ to have the discussion.
    Increasing the basic rate to target tax cuts on low earners is better than reducing the higher rate threshold to increase the basic rate: not leaving anyone worse off but tapering away the tax cut. Higher rate payers would get zero overall, low earners the full amount and other basic rate payers something in between based on their income. If Lib Dems were prepared to increase the basic rate to ~23%, they could for the same cost raise the Personal Allowance up to the minimum wage, further helping those with median household income under £30,800, by giving richer taxpayers a smaller tax cut. Or, such targeting could be used to reduce the cost.

  • Peter Martin 15th May '21 - 5:36pm

    Can I be one of the first to volunteer for a UBI trial?

    I’d be happy to give it a five star review. That is if I don’t have to pay any extra taxes at the same time!

  • Katharine Pindar 17th May '21 - 1:26am

    The report from the US UBI Center was commissioned by the Social Liberal Forum as a ‘clean slate’ contribution to the debate about implementing UBI in Britain, not put forward as SLF Council policy. It is a pity that the consultation document of our party working group was not also available for consideration before the webinar took place, but as has been observed it was described at this useful event, and we look forward to reading it very soon as initial comments were understood to be requested by the end of this month.
    As a member of SLF Council I regard UBI as potentially a very important part of the Beveridge-2 Plan, which aims to eliminate poverty in this country as well as tackling the deep continuing problems concerned with health and social care, education, housing and employment.

  • Steven Murphy 18th May '21 - 9:07am

    Petition asking UK Parliament to devolve powers for UBI trial to Scottish Parliament, Please support.

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