Bishop of Durham asks Government about low earners, in work poverty and universal basic income

On 6th May 2020 the Archbishop of York, Most Revd John Sentamu, led a debate in the House of Lords on the motion that the Lords “do consider the case for increasing income equality and sustainability in the light of the recent health emergency.” The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, also spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on her moving maiden speech. I am grateful for all she does to champion the voices of children.

I want to thank Archbishop Sentamu for his leadership in consistently speaking up for racial and social justice. He champions work among young people, notably through the Archbishop of York Youth Trust. He inspires others to do the same.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a dividing experience through its unequal financial impact. The lowest-earning 10% are seven times more likely than high earners to work in a sector which has shut down. Archbishop Sentamu ​champions the real living wage. In-work poverty is compounded by irregular working hours. Such unpredictability means that families cannot easily save to safeguard themselves from unexpected life events. Eighteen per cent of the north-east’s working population experience insecure work. Turn2us found that people on zero-hours contracts expect a £193 drop in monthly income. These workers often provide essential services such as cleaning and delivery, yet face great financial instability. Will Her Majesty’s Government promote Living Hours accreditation?

Under-25s are two and a half times as likely as other age groups to work in a sector which has now shut down; youth unemployment could rise to 2 million. Long-term unemployed young people go on to earn less and are more likely to be unemployed in the future. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to protect young people in the labour market from the detrimental impact of the coronavirus crisis?

This crisis highlights the need for a fairer all-round taxation system in which those on middle and higher incomes, of all ages, contribute more to paying the long-term costs. I hope, too, that we will explore a universal basic income system and not simply dismiss it.

Will Her Majesty’s Government do everything possible to create increased, sustainable income equality and thus create a more just society that looks more like the kingdom of God?


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