Shaun Bailey: UBI could be used ‘to buy lots of drugs’

London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has been criticised for claiming that people may use a universal basic income to buy drugs.

The comments came at a meeting of the London Assembly’s economy committee during a debate about trialling a universal basic income in London.

A universal basic income would mean that everyone, regardless of employment status, would regularly receive a fixed amount of money without the need for means testing, which could help reduce poverty as some experts told the Assembly.

Mr Bailey, who is a member of the GLA Conservatives, said he had concerns over how “the human condition” was not being taken into account by proponents of a UBI.

He said: “I’ve been a youth worker for over 20 years. I know some people who would absolutely fly if you gave them a lump sum every week. I know some people that would buy lots of drugs. So where is the care for the person? How do you get past just universally giving people money?”

Speaking to the Assembly as a guest was Simon Duffy, director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, who said that Mr Bailey’s comment was “an extraordinary claim”.

Following the meeting, Mr Duffy told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he found Mr Bailey’s comments “quite shocking” and that “there is no evidence” that people on lower incomes use benefits to buy drugs.

Mr Duffy said: “There is a trope or a myth that ordinary people don’t know how to spend money, and that people who are poor are, in some way, incompetent at spending money. And therefore, what the state needs to do is control them or their spending in some way. This is utterly false.

“It’s not just false, it’s clearly unproven. It’s clearly the opposite of any evidence we have about the world.”

The economy committee eventually voted in favour of trialling a UBI in London though it would be up to individual boroughs to carry out trials as opposed to City Hall.

Lib Dem Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who originally seconded the motion at a meeting last year, said she was “delighted” that the motion had passed.

Ms Pidgeon said: “We’ve seen during the pandemic how fragile many peoples’ financial circumstances are, especially in London where even before Covid-19 close to a third of people lived in poverty. With many falling through the gaps during the pandemic its clearer than ever that our welfare system doesn’t work effectively enough.

“If a UBI had been in place before Covid-19 it would have provided automatic essential income top-ups for those who really needed it. Ensuring people have money to spend and are not living hand-to-mouth doesn’t just benefit them, but everyone.”

Two borough councils, Islington and Richmond, have so far indicated that they would be open to hosting trials of universal basic income.

Today’s vote means that the London Assembly joins 27 other local authorities across the UK in calling for UBI trials to be implemented.

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