Community News Features

Basic income for East Finchley

Julia Hines and Lizzie Collinson of Grange Big Local on plans for a pilot project that will see groups of local people in East Finchley and Jarrow receive £1600 a month for two years

Grange Big Local's Eat Free Pizza, Talk Free Money event at 6.30pm on Mon 5 June, at the Ann Owens Centre
Local residents at Grange Big Local’s Eat Free Pizza, Talk Free Money event on Monday at the Ann Owens Centre

The first week of June saw East Finchley put firmly on the map all thanks to an exciting proposal that Grange Big Local has been working on, to find out what might happen if we had a basic income, or universal basic income. If funding is secured, a basic income trial will be taking place in East Finchley. 

With coverage in national newspapers and broadcasters, discussions on radio, television and podcasts, and a question at PMQs, there’s a tidal wave of information for the public to consume. But what are the facts? 

So what is it all about? 

Basic income is the idea everyone in the country gets paid a regular income, as a right, to meet their basic needs. You don’t have to apply for it, or meet any conditions. It is always there if your life changes, or if you want to change your life. You are not threatened with sanctions, worried about thresholds, or forced to try and meet conditions. 

What is Grange Big Local?

Grange Big Local (GBL) is a community association that was formed by local residents seven years ago, with funding from the National Lottery, to empower residents to tackle needs and problems in their community, themselves. The GBL area is quite small – the boundaries are the North Circular, East End Road, Church Lane and the High Road. The GBL volunteer board has ten members, seven of whom live in the area, with the remaining three living nearby. Five of them live on local social housing estates (four on the Grange).  The board team spend a lot of time asking people about what is important to them, at community events, local groups, as well as through door-knocking. 

Ismail Abdi and Daniel Mermelstein, local GBL volunteers at Grange Big Local's Eat Free Pizza, Talk Free Money event on Mon 5th June, at the Ann Owens Centre
Ismail Abdi and Daniel Mermelstein, local GBL volunteers – (Credit – Grange Big Local)

Why launch a Basic Income Project?

After speaking to residents, one thing was clear: the benefits system is not working. It causes stress and traps people. When the board asked the local community about this proposal, they spoke to 150 people, 116 of them through door-knocking, as well as holding four focus groups locally, and one at City Hall, organised by London Assembly member Zack Polanski. Our door-knocking volunteers were, between them, able to speak English, French, Arabic, Somali, Spanish, Gujarati, German and Dutch. 

70% of the people we spoke to were supportive of a basic income pilot taking place in the GBL area.  

The proposal

In 2021, the proposal began with working with Big Local Central Jarrow and Basic Income Conversation to identify the values, vision and mission of this project. All three organisations wanted this to be research that people were part of, not research done on them. They needed the community to feel safe and be safe. The pilot would be research, not charity, with proper data, to properly illustrate the impact of a basic income.

After pinning down the key values, a team headed by Prof Matthew Johnson, and Elliott Johnson of the Northumbria University were brought in. Both understand the core values and have experience in both basic income research and co-production. 

Lena Swedlow, Basic Income Conversation; Zack Polanski AM, Deputy Leader Green Party; Hina Bokhari AM Lib Democrat Assembly Member; and Antoinette Fernandez, Deputy Chair of Greens of Colour pictured at Grange Big Local's Eat Free Pizza, Talk Free Money event on Mon 5 June, at the Ann Owens Centre
Lena Swedlow, Basic Income Conversation; Zack Polanski AM, Deputy Leader Green Party; Hina Bokhari AM Lib Democrat Assembly Member; and Antoinette Fernandez, Deputy Chair of Greens of Colour – (Credit – Grange Big Local)

How will the pilot work? 

Thirty people from East Finchley and Jarrow (fifteen from each area) aged 18 and over, will receive a monthly income of £1600 per month for two years. 

20% of them will be disabled people. That is important as people with disabilities are often trapped by needs tests, fearing that their benefits will be taken away if they manage any kind of activity, while balancing the need to be as healthy and as active as possible.

Another 15 people will not get a basic income but, will be paid for the time they spend answering our questions or being interviewed. Local people will be trained to be the peer researchers asking those questions – they will also be paid for that work. 

Not everyone will be better off being part of the trial, which is why all the participants will be asked to speak to Citizens Advice Barnet about their circumstances before the trial starts and before it ends. 

Julia Hines, GBL board member and Elliott Johnson, Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University at Grange Big Local's Eat Free Pizza, Talk Free Money event on Mon 5th June, at the Ann Owens Centre
Julia Hines, GBL board member and Elliott Johnson, Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University – (Credit – Grange Big Local)

Why £1600? Why Two Years?

The figure of £1600 was selected because for most people receiving Universal Credit, this amount will be enough to take them out of the benefits system. It has already been shown in various trials and studies that generally, giving people more money will improve their health and wellbeing. However, GBL wants to know what happens when you take people out of the benefits system. 

The length of the pilot has been set as two years so that participants have amble time to feel the benefits of a basic income. 

Creating a realistic and achievable pilot is key, which is why a relatively small group of people will participate. Raising the money to perform the pilot will be challenging, but GBL feels strongly about the positive impact a basic income could have on people living in East Finchley and Jarrow. 

James Masters, chair of the GBL volunteer board said: “We wanted to spark a conversation about the fact that the welfare system in this country is not working for lots of people. It is failing lots of people in the gig economy too. We certainly did that. We have shown that even small groups like ours can get people talking and thinking about changing the big stuff.”

How Can People Apply?

GBL are not currently accepting applications for the pilot. If you want to stay in touch with them for when applications open please sign up for their newsletter here.


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