Future Generations Commissioner calls for a Universal Basic Income pilot for creatives

The Future Generations Commissioner is calling for a Creative Universal Basic Income to pay artists a basic living allowance and help Wales recover from the pandemic. 

Posted by: Creative Cardiff

Date: 14 August 2020

Sophie Howe, a vocal advocate for UBI, thinks a pilot of the scheme could rescue the struggling arts and culture sector in Wales and act as a trial for a payment for all in the future. 

Welsh Government has announced a £53m to support cultural organisations in Wales hit hard by the effects of COVID-19. 

While the money could help venues plan for an eventual reopening, the commissioner says a UBI for creative practitioners could help arts survive in the long-term. 

UBI is a direct, non-means tested payment for citizens - a trial in Finland found recipients reported increased productivity and improved mental health. 

She said: "We hear a lot about the economic recovery - but just as important is the creative recovery. 

"A creative society is a thriving society. Wales’ creatives - the artists, writers, poets, musicians, performers and more - will be vital in getting the country back on its feet - but they need to be better supported. 

"The sector was already struggling before the pandemic and its survival depends on a ground-breaking response. 

So a UBI would go further than an emergency hand-out - this could save jobs, protect our long-term cultural future and help Wales’ recovery.

The £53m fund will be delivered jointly by the government and the Arts Council of Wales and its terms include a 'cultural contract' requiring applicants to commit to fair work and pay and sustainability. 

Piloting a UBI in Wales’ creative sector could form part of that contract, said the commissioner, allowing venues to work with communities on a ‘something for something’ approach and help deal with the effects of lockdown, such as isolation. 

The commissioner is working with cultural organisations in Wales on a proposal for how the scheme would work with the almost 60,000 people employed by the arts and creative sector. 

During lockdown, the Arts Council for Wales supported artists and groups through the Individual Stabilisation Fund on projects such as virtual story walks, streaming concerts into care homes and holding doorstep performances outside sheltered accommodation. 

In France, artists have traditionally been subsidised through periods of unemployment. 

Ms Howe said Wales could be 'world-leading' in providing a safety net for the sector as artists use their talents and skills to support different types of responses to the pandemic. 

Future Generations Commissioner for Wales Sophie Howe

They could play a key role, she said, in helping to rebuild town and city centres, supporting vulnerable people by getting them involved in arts and music and helping to bring "unique creative thinking" to how we solve post-pandemic problems. 

She said a UBI would allow a higher value to be placed on creative work - creative roles are predicted to be some of those least at risk of being replaced by automation. 

In her role as Future Generations Commissioner, Ms Howe has advised that public bodies involve creative practitioners in planning for public services and infrastructure from the early stages, to work on everything from schools and hospitals to helping to solve the climate crisis. 

Ms Howe has warned Welsh Government it was missing culture opportunities in post-pandemic planning and said culture had a large role to play in the nation’s recovery. 

She said the scheme would also encourage inclusivity, helping organisations and Welsh Government to work with individuals and groups that represent a vibrant and diverse Wales. 

She said: "A UBI trial specifically for people, including freelancers, who contribute art in a range of different ways, should go some way to stop the extractive culture of ‘picking someone’s brain’ and see creatives paid fairly for their work.

"It would signal in a very practical way that we appreciate the long-lasting contribution the creative sector makes to Wales’ well-being." 

Graeme Farrow, artistic director at Wales Millennium Centre, supports the idea. He said: "The more creative thinking and action that goes into the recovery in Wales, the better and more resilient it will be.  

Artists in Wales have demonstrated how valuable their work is in health, education and other areas across the economy.  

"There is a real opportunity here to invest in both our artists and our future hand in hand, not just through a short-term ‘bail out’ type of proposition. 

"A form of basic income which allows creative  practitioners to work in communities, in public services and infrastructure over time is a progressive way of grasping this opportunity and I support the Future Generations Commissioner’s vision around this."

Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Wales said: "This is an intriguing proposal from the Future Generations Commissioner and one that deserves careful consideration. The COVID pandemic is asking some tough questions, including how we can best support the many freelance individuals who sustain the arts and creative industries through their work. 

"Yet when lockdown happened, these are the very people whose work stopped immediately with no prospect of anything on the near horizon. This is a massive unused resource of experience, and we would support calls to examine the piloting of a Universal Basic Income. Being able to meet essential expenses, for example, would mean that highly skilled professionals would not be forced into jobs just to ‘pay the bills’, especially if they were from less affluent backgrounds.  

"Universal BasicIncome is a great way levelling up and could possibly change the notion that only the well-off and privileged can afford to be arts professionals."

The scheme, the commissioner says, has the potential as a pilot for an eventual universal basic income for everyone in Wales. 

In May, she said the case for a UBI, recommended in her new Future Generations Report, had been made critical as a result of the pandemic. 

The commissioner, whose role is to protect future generations from the political actions of today,  has also called for a reduced working week to reduce our carbon footprint and keep people well, since the report was published in March. 

It is the biggest piece of work since the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act became law in 2015 and Ms Howe is asking Welsh Government to use it to inform a response to the crisis which protects society in the long-term, placing a focus on quality of life.