A motion brought forward by an Alliance Councillor on Universal Basic Income is the first one to be supported of its kind in a Northern Ireland local council.
The political parties in the Newry Mourne and Down District Council Economic, Regeneration and Tourism Committee held a full debate over the motion brought forward by Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown on the subject of Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The motion succeeded by a narrow majority, and was seconded by the SDLP’s Cllr John Trainor. Sinn Féin opposed the motion on the basis that it was offering to put money in the pockets of the richer members of our society, and not effectively closing the wealth gap.
On Monday evening (10 August 2020) at the Monaghan Road Council offices, Councillor Brown read his motion in the chamber which said:
- “In the wake of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this Council recognises the need for a reformed, fairer, welfare system that protects everyone in society. It recognises the need to provide economic security for all and invest in people to protect livelihoods and protect the economy.
- Therefore, it calls on the Departments of Communities and Finance and the UK Treasury to design a recovery Universal Basic Income (UBI) for Northern Ireland.
- Additionally, this council supports the investigation of full, permanent UBI for Northern Ireland, recognising the need for a radical overhaul of the welfare state and the positive impact this would have on poverty alleviation, inequality and mental health in particular. Council will commit to producing a plan for how a pilot of a full UBI be implemented within the district, and formally expresses its support for said pilot.”
Brown Secures Motion With Narrow Margin
Speaking after the reading the motion, Cllr Brown, who is currently studying for a doctorate on the subject of Universal Basic Income, said:
“A universal basic income is a fixed regular amount paid to every resident in an area regardless of their circumstances.
“It would replace the vast majority of means tested benefits and would provide everyone with a basic level of financial security to fall back on, lifting many millions out of poverty.
The post-COVID world gives us an opportunity to build back better and look at how we can redesign the social and economic contract in a way that works for all. We already have universal healthcare and education, and income should be a basic human right as well.
Many consider UBI to be this generation’s NHS and I am delighted NMD District can lead the way on this important issue.’
This motion adds the first Council in NI to the list of others in the UK who have backed calls for a UBI, including Liverpool, Sheffield, Hull, Norwich and Glasgow. The Scottish Government is currently planning how a UBI would work there.”
Cllr Brown added: “I would like to thank the Councillors from the SDLP, Alliance, UUP and the Independent grouping who backed the motion. Whilst DUP abstained and that is fair enough, I am very disappointed Sinn Fein voted against this progressive, egalitarian policy that would redistribute income and put more money into the pockets of the poor and vulnerable in society.”
Trainor Seconds The Motion
Speaking after seconding the motion, Councillor John Trainor said: “Councils can be a vital starting point for conversations around new ideas, and UBI is an important one given the failings of the current welfare state.
“Our district could now play host to a local trial UBI in the future, should funding become available from the Treasury.
“This is not pie in the sky as the UK Labour Party committed to running nationwide trials in their last election manifesto.”
Sinn Féin Oppose Motion
Sinn Féin Councillor Willie Clarke in oppposing the morion said: “We are facing high unemployment, a situation where we are coming our of a long conflict, and some people have never been in employment.
“Pilot schemes may not be accurate in their outcomes.
“The principle of the motion is good, but we must get to a place where our citizens don’t slip through the poverty net. If we are starting off from a position where people are poor, people will just be worse off.
“Sinn Féin has always argued for more fiscal powers to address poverty.”
DUP Councillor Glynn Hanna abstained from the vote saying: “I agree with the principle but this is a Westminster matter.
“For example, self employed people, and pensioners… how do they fit into this equation. It is a very complex matter and will be expensive to fix it. I just don’t know if it is workable.”
The final vote was six in favour of the motion, five against, with 2 abstentions and 2 councillors absent.