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Adopting basic income scheme in Wales could improve health for all

Written by on 21st June 2021

A new report published by Public Health Wales suggests that introducing a basic income scheme in Wales could be a catalyst for better health and well-being outcomes for all.

The idea of a universal basic income, a form of social security aimed at providing all people with a set amount of regular income, for example £500 a month without means testing, has existed for centuries but never been fully implemented.

Based on international evidence, key findings of implementing such a scheme identified potential positive effects on people’s health, including:

  • Increasing income security: Money worries are one of the most common triggers for anxiety and depression
  • Reductions in child poverty and improvements in other childhood outcomes: Research shows that children are able to learn better at school when they have enough to eat and a stable family life
  • Improved educational attainment: Children from a financially secure background are more likely to stay in education longer or return to education
  • Additional money for those more likely to be in lower paid jobs such as disabled people and women from deprived areas, leading to a higher standard of living
  • Greater food security and improved nutrition
  • Housing quality improvements and more affordable housing options
  • A decrease in hospital admissions particularly in relation to accidents, injuries and mental health conditions
  • However, when schemes were stopped, the positive effects diminished and in some cases well-being worsened from before the scheme was implemented.

The report ‘A basic income to improve population health and well-being in Wales?’ considers a range of evidence and explores the potential impacts on health and well-being. It also looks into the different approaches to policy design and implementation internationally.

Report author Adam Jones, Senior Policy Officer for Public Health Wales, said: “How well a basic income scheme works would certainly depend on how it’s designed and delivered.

“How much income it provides, who is eligible for the income, and how long the scheme is designed to last are all crucial factors in determining outcomes.

“The protection and improvement of Wales’ health is at the heart of everything we do at Public Health Wales. Evidence suggests that members of society would benefit from an income that supports their health and wellbeing and allows them to contribute to society and flourish.

“A form of basic income is one of the options government can consider to achieve this. It is a radical concept that has yet to be adopted formally by any country but parts of Canada and Finland have trialled schemes, with different approaches, with both seeing positive impacts upon health and well-being in the population. These included people reporting better mental well-being, with improved satisfaction in their lives, and less mental strain, depression and loneliness. Recipients also noted improvements in income security, educational uptakes, and community participation.

“However this is based on limited evidence, and there are many areas where there is minimal or no change in outcomes. Basic income as an idea and as a proposal is as multi-faceted and complex as the issues it needs to address.”

The report identifies options for policy-makers who are thinking about basic income, such as carrying out economic modelling, placing health and wellbeing as a core aim of any scheme, and carrying out feasibility studies to understand how basic income could be introduced in Wales.