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West Berkshire Council rejects universal basic income trial proposal

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Councillor dubs plans 'utter insanity'

A scheme that provides everyone with unconditional, monthly payments will not be trialled in West Berkshire after Conservative politicians described it as "utter insanity" and "fantasy world ideology."

West Berkshire Council was asked to follow in the footsteps of councils in several UK cities, including Liverpool and Cardiff, and explore plans for a universal basic income trial.

Councillor Steve Masters (Green, Speen) said it could provide "economic security, peace of mind and support" to people as they look to "rebuild their lives" after the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Far from turning us all into lazy layabouts, furlough and universal basic income give people choices," he said.

"They can do voluntary work, they can become artists, writers or musicians and they can even retrain. These options add value to their community, improve their wellbeing and the ability for everyone in the community to fulfil their potential."

The Liberal Democrats also called on the Conservative-run council to support a universal basic income trial, during a council meeting on Thursday, December 3.

"I call upon all of you to see this as an elegant, simple and socially sustaining policy we should look at carefully," said councillor Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common).

But the scheme was lambasted by the Conservative councillors, who hold the majority (24) of the 43 seats on West Berkshire Council, and they voted to reject it.

"It sounds too good to be true and of course it is. It's political snake oil," said councillor Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield), executive member for finance.

The Tory councillor described it as a "socialist utopian dream" and rejected the suggestion that universal basic income could be a cost-effective replacement for means-tested benefits, such as Universal Credit.

Mr Mackinnon said a full roll out of universal basic income would cost the taxpayer £660 billion a year – more than 12 times as much as the current benefits system (£52 billion).

He said: "It's utter insanity. The tax rises required to even come close to attempting to raise that sum would kill the economy stone dead.

"People who did work, would have their tax rate doubled effectively."

Councillor Alan Law (Con, Basildon) accused the Green Party of "total economic ignorance" and said universal basic income "is not a policy for the real world."

"Not even Cuba or the Soviet Union ever went as far as this and I don't think West Berkshire is about to be the first," he said.

Councillor Gareth Hurley (Con, Pangbourne) described the scheme as "fantasy world ideology".

He added: "This is a real low for me that we've sat here for this long debating a matter that is frankly outside of West Berkshire Council's hands.

"We can have an opinion on this, but this is a state matter.

"I'm flabbergasted by this, I'm disappointed by this. There are pressing matters in West Berkshire. We can be doing more for our residents at the moment."

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