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Could this radical yet simple idea transform the north of England?

Dozens of activists, academics and citizens are set to hear from speakers including Andy Burnham about an age-old proposal that supporters say could eliminate poverty altogether.

Jonny gios 6r MIN Fr og Y unsplash

Could an unconditional income for every citizen transform the north's economy?

Jonny Gios on Unsplash.

Activists calling for a radical transformation of the UK's welfare system will hear from Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham next week on how he believes a Universal Basic Income could transform the north of England.

Burnham is speaking as part of the second annual Basic Income North conference, which will bring campaigners, academics and politicians together by Zoom to discuss the idea of an unconditional income for every citizen in the north.

The free one-day event on 20 July is being organised by the RSA and the Basic Income Conversation in partnership with the UBI Lab Network, a project of Opus Independents, who also publish Now Then.

“I believe Universal Basic Income has the potential to transform the north, which is why I am calling for a pilot in our city-region,” said Burnham.

“With the current cost of living crisis and widespread economic insecurity, we are going to require some form of basic income in the coming years. I hope Basic Income North 2023 will move the idea of Basic Income in our city-region, forward and contribute to working towards a fairer and more equal society.”

Other speakers at the free online event (booking is required) include top US Basic Income activist Scott Santens and Dr Kate Pickett, author of The Spirit Level and an expert on the corrosive effects of inequality.

A Basic Income is the idea that every citizen should receive a regular, unconditional payment regardless of income, wealth or work. Supporters say this would create a safety floor that nobody could fall below, and would in time eliminate absolute poverty.

Research into a large government-run pilot in Finland found that giving people a Basic Income actually led to a small increase in employment, as it did away with the steep tapering-off rates of a traditional benefits system. The results appear to contradict claims from politicians on the right that a Basic Income would lead to a huge increase in unemployment.

The idea has moved into the political mainstream in recent years, after the pandemic revealed gaps in UK government support packages that left millions of people in limbo, and facing hardship for the first time.

Last year, following an election campaign by UBI Lab Wales, the Welsh Government launched a world-leading Basic Income pilot focused on young people leaving care. Around 500 18-year-olds have been offered a Basic Income of £19,200 a year, with the aim of reducing the high rate of homelessness and mental health problems among care leavers.

Plans have also been drawn up recently by the thinktank Autonomy for England's first Basic Income pilot, which would see around 30 people in the north-east and north London receive £1,600 a month if it goes ahead.

Organisers of the upcoming conference hope that Basic Income North 2023 will build on this success, and kickstart the movement for pilots across the north of England, including in Greater Manchester.

“Since our first event in July last year, there’s been so much progress in the area of Basic Income,” said Alison Hawdale, co-founder of UBI Lab Manchester.

“The time is right to bring people together to see how the introduction of an unconditional income for every citizen can play a key role in a fairer, greener future. We’re proud that the north is playing a leading role in making this idea a reality”.

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