Every adult in the UK would be handed a regular payment by the government under a radical plan set to be backed by the Lib Dems.
New leader Ed Davey has thrown his weight behind Universal Basic Income – which would guarantee a sum to every citizen, in work or unemployed, single or with five children.
A motion backed by Sir Ed will go to a vote at the Lib Dems’ virtual conference on Friday, calling for the party “to campaign for a Universal Basic Income, paid to all long-term UK residents”.
It adds UBI would be paid on top of “targeted welfare payments” to help the most vulnerable.
If approved by party members, the principle of a universal basic income would become official Liberal Democrat policy.
Lib Dem chiefs stress the idea is at its earliest stages and they have not decided what level a UBI would be set at, or how payments might work for children.
But the party’s Treasury spokeswoman Christine Jardine claimed the scheme “has the potential to be our generation’s National Health Service.”
Speaking to the Mirror, she said she did not support UBI two years ago but said “that was a different time” – with whole industries now under threat from coronavirus.
“The cost of not doing something like this could be huge,” she added. “Things have changed and I think we have to now be looking at the solution that the problems we face demand.”
The Lib Dems have only 11 MPs, but their backing would boost mainstream political support for the idea.
The Green Party promised a UBI of at least £89 a week by 2025 in its election manifesto last year.
The SNP also backs the idea of UBI and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn said it would trial it. But it has been roundly dismissed by the Tories, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak saying it is not the “right response” to the pandemic.
Critics and backers are also divided over its huge cost, which the RSA think tank estimated at £280billion a year.
Ms Jardine said she wants to start a “national debate” including in her own party.
She said William Beveridge’s 1942 vision for the welfare state must be replaced by one “for the 21st Century.”
She added: “I believe that, moving forward after this pandemic, unemployment and financial insecurity will be major challenges for any government.
“A basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and care for those who need it.”
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