Jonathan Reynolds said while he was still ‘interested’ in the idea of a basic payment for every Brit rich or poor, it’s not yet ‘feasible’ and ‘that’s not the conversation’
Labour’s welfare chief has poured cold water on hopes for a Universal Basic Income for every Brit.
Jonathan Reynolds said in 2016 he was “coming out” for the idea, which would see a set sum paid to everyone rich or poor.
But speaking on the margins of Labour ’s party conference this afternoon, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said while he was “interested” in UBI, it is not yet “in any way feasible”.
He added: “I’ll always engage in the debate, but there’s obviously not a plan I can look at to implement and that’s not the conversation.
“It’s how you take the best of that political debate and use it to build a genuinely real world, effective system for the future.”
It’s understood the party is focusing on universal elements of the benefit system, and problems with Universal Credit, rather than a UBI.
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His comments come despite Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham voicing support for UBI at the conference on Sunday night.
Labour-led Wales is also due to pilot UBI, while Labour under Jeremy Corbyn promised in its 2019 manifesto to trial the idea.
But Mr Reynolds said: “As far as I understand, Andy didn’t lay out an actual plan for UBI, just expressed an interest in it, last night.
“If you look at any social security system in the world you’ve got elements of the universal… elements which are means tested… and wage insurance based bits.
“So you’re trying to build a system out of these principles. There is no UBI plan on the shelf that you could just implement in the UK that’s in any way feasible.
“But I think again, people come to the conversation because they share the aims and aspirations that many of us have as to how to fundamentally give people the protection they need.”
Mr Reynolds said UBI was “really interesting” and could be “truer to the principles of social security” than the current system.
But he said he had previously acknowledged “two huge problems” – whether it dilutes support for priority groups, and how housing costs are calculated.
He added: “If you took the current money that’s spent on Universal Credit and its legacy predecessors and divide it by the population, it would be minuscule – it would be more like £10 or £11 a head on broad figures…
“Could you take the current spending and deliver it – obviously not. It just wouldn’t be anywhere near sufficient.”
It came after Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves unveiled a pledge to keep government borrowing under control if Labour win power.
She told the conference: “We would put in place fiscal rules that will bind the next Labour government to ensure we always spend wisely and keep debt under control, so that we have the means to transform schools, hospitals and communities, and pay for investment in the new industries and jobs that our country desperately needs.”
Mr Reynolds was speaking at a fringe event titled ‘replacing Universal Credit with a living income’.
In an earlier speech to conference he vowed to “replace Universal Credit with a better system”.
He added: “When people receive a letter from the NHS they don’t fear it. The same cannot be said of the DWP. We are going to change that.”
He said the new system could be based on the same basic IT infrastructure. “I’m more than satisfied we can build a better system onto that existing platform,” he told the fringe event.
He told the fringe event he had a timescale in mind about revealing more detail of what Labour’s system would look like.
But he insisted his pledge to cut the taper rate – leaving working claimants with more money – had pulled the government to open private talks about doing the same.
Mr Reynolds also said Labour will be chasing new opportunities in the Commons and the Lords to block the £20-a-week UC cut.
Despite the cut kicking in from October 13, he said talks are under way with peers adding: “I’ll pursue any opportunity I can.”