Trial scheme in which councils will give people free money takes step closer

A trial for Universal Basic Income in Northern Ireland has moved a step closer, with a number of local authorities pledging funding for a feasibility study.

Belfast City Council approved an offer of funding towards a study looking at practicalities for a trial, at its recent meeting of the strategic policy and resources committee.

The funding offer was opposed by the DUP, which has stated its objection to Universal Basic Income.

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The study will not be funded by Stormont, but rather by local authorities, and other groups such as Advice NI and Queen’s University. The total cost of the study has been calculated at £95,800, with the Belfast Council pledge taking it past the halfway mark in terms of reaching the target.

Derry City and Strabane District Council has also pledged £15,000 while a bid for the same amount has been submitted to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. The three council areas will provide the likely locations for any future trials.

A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a regular payment that is given to everyone in society to create a minimum income floor.

Last year a report was published in Scotland exploring the feasibility of a UBI trial there. The Welsh government has stated their commitment to trialling UBI, as has the Republic of Ireland government.

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Regarding Stormont’s involvement in Northern Ireland, a Belfast Council report states: “Whilst the Department for Communities is not likely to be a funding partner in this preliminary work, support for a UBI is contained within DfC’s Recommendations for an Anti-poverty Strategy paper (published December 2020), stating that “informed public debate on the merits and challenges involved should be encouraged”.

“Subject to the outcome of the work, DfC could potentially become the lead agency in development and delivery of a UBI trial and any trial would require their endorsement.”

At the Belfast Council committee, approval for the feasibility study was put to a vote, with 11 elected members in support, from Sinn Fein, Alliance, the SDLP and the Green Party, and five elected members against, from the DUP.

DUP Alderman Brian Kingston said: “Our position is that we do not support Universal Basic Income as the best use of public funds. We believe it actually undermines the benefits system, which should be targeted at those most in need.

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“As was shown in pilots in Finland, UBI did not succeed in helping people find employment. We think that helping people into employment is the best way of helping individuals to provide for themselves and their families financially.”

Alliance councillor Peter McReynolds said: “It is important why we have the research and the facts in front of us. If the facts come back and say it is doomed to failure, well that’s fine, we have tried.”

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Ben Lowry