Jarrow, a town that has long struggled with poverty and unemployment, is now part of a groundbreaking pilot scheme aimed at addressing financial insecurity and health inequalities. The scheme, which involves the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI), will provide £1,600 per month to two groups of 15 people each in Jarrow and East Finchley, London, for a period of two years.
The primary objective of this micropilot is to gather valuable UK data on the impact of basic income within these communities. The focus will be on documenting the stories and experiences of the participants, providing valuable insights for future research and potential larger-scale trials of UBI in these areas. The hope is that this initiative will contribute to the case for a national basic income or, at the very least, more comprehensive trials throughout the UK.
Unlike traditional welfare systems that assess and provide support based on individual needs, UBI involves offering a regular cash payment to all adult citizens. The Jarrow and East Finchley pilot stands out by providing participants with the same amount as a separate pilot conducted by the Welsh government, which targeted individuals leaving care. Moreover, this particular pilot aims to include a diverse and representative pool of individuals from each community.
The decision to implement this pilot project is rooted in extensive research on basic incomes, which has highlighted the critical role of addressing financial insecurity in promoting public health. The current situation in the UK, exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 and a mounting cost of living crisis, has left many employed individuals, self-employed workers, and small business owners at risk of destitution. Financial insecurity has reached unprecedented levels, with evidence from the Child Poverty Action Group revealing that millions of Britons are facing fuel poverty. Additionally, the campaign group End Fuel Poverty Coalition reported that 1,047 individuals in England lost their lives in December 2022 due to living in cold and damp homes.
The Bank of England’s commitment to gradually increasing interest rates has further contributed to the problem by leading to a rise in repossessions without effectively addressing the inflation caused by factors largely beyond consumers’ control. Consequently, this has given rise to a mental health crisis, creating a secondary pandemic that continues to worsen. To put an end to this crisis, bold interventions are necessary.
Universal basic income represents a radical yet feasible alternative to the existing and failing welfare system. It has the potential to reduce poverty to unprecedented levels, tackle inequality within and between regions, and significantly improve the overall health of the nation.
The government has already expressed its commitment to reorienting healthcare to focus on prevention rather than solely treating illness. Eradicating poverty and reducing inequality is considered one of the most effective ways to achieve this goal. The concept of the state redistributing resources through regular and predictable payments to citizens is a radical departure from the traditional notion of welfare, which has historically provided assistance only to a select few with no other means of meeting their needs. This shift aims to protect both employed and unemployed individuals from the constant threat of destitution.
One crucial, yet often overlooked, consequence of implementing UBI is its potential to significantly improve public health. By reducing poverty, UBI enables individuals to afford better-quality food and housing, thus satisfying their basic needs. Furthermore, by reducing financial inequality, it empowers people to escape abusive and damaging environments, leading to a reduction in stress-related illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the dangers of being trapped in such environments, and the long-term health impacts are profound.
Moreover, by providing individuals with a more secure and predictable future, UBI increases their perception of their lifespan. This, in turn, can lead to changes in behavior, with individuals adopting healthier habits such as regular exercise and health-promoting activities.