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Universal Basic Income

Volume 675: debated on Wednesday 6 May 2020

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits for social equality of introducing a universal basic income. (902289)

A universal basic income is not the best way to deliver social equality because it is not targeted at those who need it most. In response to the covid-19 outbreak, the Government set out a substantial package of targeted measures to provide support to people affected by the coronavirus, which can be delivered quickly and effectively through existing systems.

The issue is, though, that people are still falling through the cracks. Does the Minister not accept that, from an equalities perspective, the best way to stop that is to take a universal approach? That is why the First Minister of Scotland has said that, increasingly, a universal basic income is an idea whose time has come. Instead of rejecting it out of hand, will the Government not consult with devolved Administrations, the relevant all-party parliamentary group and other interested expert organisations to see how a guaranteed minimum income could be made to work?

I am afraid that we disagree on this issue. While we are happy to continue the debate, the fact is that flat-rate payments make no allowance for additional help to cope with variable essential living costs, and fail to target those who need support, such as disabled people and lone parents. This universal way of providing support is not going to work well within our existing welfare system.

I am interested in this outright dismissal of a universal basic income, and in how, where and when this decision was reached. Given that those who will benefit the most from a UBI, contrary to what the Minister said, are the very people her Department is supposed to be fighting for, did she lose the argument or did she fail in her duty to advise her colleagues on what a difference a universal basic income could make to social equality?

I am not sure why the hon. Lady has chosen to take that stance. The fact is that many, many respected people think that a universal basic income is not what is right for this country. It lacks the flexibility to respond to changes in income—unlike universal credit—it is less redistributive, and it is certainly not something that we are considering at the moment.