News this week that things may not be working out for some of the employers taking part in what has been billed as the world’s biggest pilot of a four-day week (4DW) got me wondering what has come of the much-hyped trials of that other favourite of the Fringe Left: a Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The two “bold and radical” policy ideas are inextricably linked, not least because advocates of the 4DW invariably rely on the introduction of a UBI when seeking to explain how a 4DW could be introduced across the UK economy without slashing the weekly income of the millions of hourly-paid workers on zero-hours contracts or other forms of precarious employment.
As for those UBI trials, back in 2018, when publishing the third in a series of reports arguing for the introduction of a UBI, the RSA (then still led by Matthew Taylor) said:
Realising Basic Income is published as four localities in Scotland are considering the feasibilities of UBI pilots (with other Basic Income related experiments underway in Finland, Kenya and elsewhere). Support for these feasibility studies from the Scottish Government is indicative of just how far this discussion has moved from fringe to mainstream.
Indeed, in late 2017 the Scottish Government had announced £250,000 of funding over the financial years 2018/19 and 2019/20 to enable four local authorities – Fife Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Glasgow City Council and North Ayrshire Council – to work together to “research and explore the feasibility of local pilots of Basic Income”.
Scotland may well have been “united in curiosity”, but sadly all that came of these ‘feasibility studies’ was an October 2020 conclusion that “whilst it is desirable to pilot a UBI in Scotland, it is currently not feasible due to substantial challenges associated with institutional arrangements. In short, no one level of government can pilot a UBI without substantive and complex legislative, technical and delivery changes.” Since then, there appears to have been a conference – not just any conference, but “the world’s biggest Basic Income conference!” – in August 2021. And, well, not a lot else.
Long before then, the ‘experiment in Finland’ cited by the RSA had concluded and been dismissed as “a major flop” – though UBI advocates insist that “Basic Income never failed us. Our ‘jobs’ did”. Wrong leaves on the line, I guess.
Whatever, four years on from the the discussion having ‘moved from fringe to mainstream’, the hard truth is that neither of the bold experimenters Finland and Scotland is anywhere near piloting – let alone introducing – a UBI. So, step forward … Wales.
Yes, last month the Welsh Government launched a £20 million, three-year experiment offering a Basic Income of £1,600 per month to about 500 18-year-old care leavers. And, while it may not be the biggest UBI trial in the world, the Welsh Government reportedly believes “the cash offered is the highest amount provided on a Basic Income pilot anywhere in the world”. Mwyaf hael yn y byd!
Presumably, it will be 2025 or even 2026 before we discover whether this £20m experiment was a key moment in the emergence of “a resilient and globally responsible Wales” or just another fflop mawr. By which time we might even know the outcome of the world’s biggest pilot of a 4DW.
But don’t hold your breath. And please don’t mention Iceland.
[Update, 17 October: According to a report in The Times, 86% of the “more than 70” companies taking part in the world’s biggest trial of a four-day week have said, in response to a mid-term survey by the trial organisers, that they are “likely to consider maintaining the shorter working week” beyond the six-month trial. Which sounds quite good, until you get to the bit about only 41 companies having responded to the survey. So, that’s actually just 35 (less than 50%) of the “more than 70” trial companies saying they are “likely to consider maintaining the shorter working week”. Which doesn’t sound quite so good.]