Wales' new £1600 a month basic income trial a 'lifeline' for young people, says care leaver

  • Care leaver Alexa Thompson said she was homeless for a time at university because of that lack of a financial "safety net"

A 24-year-old woman from Monmouthshire has called the Welsh Government's new basic income trial a "lifeline" for care leavers like herself.

Alexa Thompson is currently living near Manchester and training to become a barrister but said the new scheme would have greatly benefited her, had it been in place when she left care.

The Welsh Government has outlined plans to offer the world's highest basic income support programme, providing all 18-year-olds leaving care the chance to receive £1,600 a month for two years.

Alexa explained that without parents, young people find themselves vulnerable to falling into poverty as they do not have a financial "safety net" or family home they can rely on. Having that "baseline" of £1,600 will provide much needed security, she argued.

Alexa said the scheme would have helped her support herself while at university.

It is estimated around 500 people will be eligible for the scheme, which will cost the Welsh Government £20 million over the next three years.

All young people in Wales leaving care who turn 18 during a 12 month period will be offered the opportunity to take part in the pilot. Welsh Government will be assessing how the trial impacts care leavers.

For Alexa, the idea could not be trialled on a better group of people as she believes care leavers "are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged" people in society.

She explained that this is because they do not have the "safety net" of parents, who could help financially.

The 24-year-old said: “Giving [care leavers] this financial bedrock is an absolute lifeline and it would be really beneficial to young people leaving care.

"When I went to university, I didn’t really have as much of a safety net. During my studies when I was 19 I was actually homeless and for much of my undergraduate studies I was essentially staying in relationships that I wasn’t particularly happy in, in order to have that level of security.

"Having that safety net with universal basic income would have meant that I could have supported myself because I would have had that financial baseline and that would have been a much better option for me."

She added that her sister, also a care leaver from Wales, had to "work herself to the bone" doing nightshifts a a fast food restaurant while also studying 40 hours a week at university, just to get by.

Alexa said this could have been avoidable if a similar scheme to the new trial had been in place at the time.

"The routes that we took, neither of them were good for either of us, but it was what we had to do," she said.

The trial, which will start in the next financial year, will offer 18-year-olds leaving care £1,600 a month for two years. Credit: PA Images

The trial has been widely supported by political parties but the Welsh Conservatives have raised concerns.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Social Partnership, Joel James MS, said: “Whilst I wholeheartedly support helping the poorest and most vulnerable in our country, the Labour Government is not even close to living in reality with this trial.

“Countless trials from across the globe have found basic income does not have the expected outcomes as it fails to incentivise work and proves time after time to be a waste of public money."

However Alexa said the argument of basic income de-incentivising work does not "hold weight".

She claimed: “The things that stop people from being able to work and study are all of these anxieties and insecurities about not knowing where your next meal is going to come from, not knowing how you’re going to pay the next month’s rent.

"Basic income doesn’t take away ambition and drive and commitment, it just removes worrying about basic levels of subsistence that you need to survive. It just takes that away, it takes the pressure off."

She believes it will mean young people can make more informed and better decisions about their lives and careers because of the financial help.

"It will encourage people to not feel pressured to jump into dead-end jobs or be working on casual zero hour contracts because they just need something as soon as they can," she said.

"It will encourage people to take longer, to think more creatively and more pragmatically about the kinds of careers they want to pursue when they’ve got that breathing space that normal young people have by virtue of having parents. Care leavers don’t have that."

BI is a government programme in which everybody receives a set amount of money on a regular basis, regardless of their employment status. The pilot is set to begin during the next financial year.