Why Don’t We Just… trial a Citizens’ Income in West Yorkshire?

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I want to live in a thriving regional democracy. A place that supports debate and new ideas, with the democratic authority to follow through on those ideas. Not a distant and uninterested central government intoxicated by the concentration of business and media power on its doorstep, not an emaciated local authority where so little power to change things inspires so little interest. A new democracy at the regional level, big enough to really change things, close enough to understand our lives. A beacon of hope that inspires and learns from other regions around the world.

If people are to give up any of their busy lives to think about regional democracy, however, it must be about how it connects to the issues, how it will make a real difference to their everyday lives. It must be about facing the future positively and being open to trying out new ideas for the benefit of all its residents, whether long term or newcomer.

One idea that could help address many people’s everyday concerns is that of a universal basic income. That is to say, each citizen receives from the government a set amount of income to guarantee a basic standard of living – the same amount, untaxed, no questions asked. A citizens’ income.

Although some see this in terms of social security, others see this as a necessity for the future. A future where technological advances lead to fewer paid jobs. A future where the relationship between industrial production, income and belonging will loosen into something unrecognisable from what went before.

In parts of Yorkshire, this transition has been underway for some time. Often in this process, the complexities of our social security system have been in themselves a barrier to starting a positive future for many people.

The universality of citizens’ income is promoted as a means of ensuring that no one will miss out on an income due to such complexity. But more than that, the very freedom provided by a guaranteed income that is not dependent on a job may be exactly the space needed for citizens to have ideas, to offer their
time, to take a risk, to experiment and play, to work with others, to find new democratic and inclusive ways of building communities and to start new enterprises.

In the Netherlands, the city of Utrecht has a limited trial of basic income at around £660 a month, based on those already in receipt of social security; Ontario, a Canadian province that includes some areas with similar issues in the transition to a post-industrial future as parts of Yorkshire, recently announced it was to trial a basic income for all citizens.

If we are to get a better idea as to what part a citizens’ income may (or may not) play in our future, a trial within a specific geographical area therefore seems a reasonable approach. Given the reality of the post-industrial future facing large parts of our region, why don’t we take the initiative here and trial a citizens’ income in West Yorkshire?

Ian Martin lives in East Leeds. More details of this and other hopeful ideas from West Yorkshire can be found on the collaborative blog We Share The Same Skies (@SameSkiesBlog)

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