Festival of Debate Interview: Dr Mark Bryan

Dr Mark Bryan is a Reader in Economics at the University of Sheffield. He appeared on the panel at the UBI Lab: Sheffield event on 6 June. We chatted to Mark to find out more about his work and research.

You’re a Reader in Economics at the University of Sheffield, what are your research interests and what are you working on at the moment?

My research interests are to do with the labour market and how it relates to people’s health and wellbeing. Currently I’m working on a few topics including the impact of health on employment, how couples react when one of them loses their job, and the effect of work on wellbeing. A basic income would potentially have large impacts in all these areas so I am very interested in it.

You’re part of UBI Lab: Sheffield, can you tell us a little bit about the work the group is doing, who else is involved and your role within it?

The aim of UBI Lab: Sheffield is to explore the idea of a basic income and generate evidence on how it might work in practice. As well as the events in Festival of Debate we have produced some educational materials for use in schools and are working on future events with vox pops and video interviews. The aim is to raise awareness amongst a broad spectrum of people in Sheffield. However, our main focus is on developing proposals for a pilot in Sheffield – we hope this will show how a basic income could work at local level and produce valuable evidence to inform any future plans for a national basic income. Sheffield would be the first such pilot in England, and would add to the evidence of various other trials internationally. The core group includes people from Sheffield Equality Group, the Centre for Welfare Reform, MADE with Design creative consultancy and Opus Independents, as well as the University of Sheffield. But we are always open to new members including people sceptical of basic income and those just wanting to find out more. Our website, including our blog and other links and information, is at https://www.ubilabsheffield.org/. As an economist with experience of policy evaluation techniques, my specific role in the group is to provide an ‘economics’ perspective on the UBI design and to help come up with a pilot that will produce the most reliable evidence.

What do you think is the likelihood of a basic income pilot taking place in Sheffield?

We hope it is very likely but that will depend on us generating enthusiasm among potential funders! This would be a first but it’s still important to do the groundwork and produce a proposal that is as credible and detailed as possible. At that point we’ll be able to make a persuasive case to local decision makers.

If basic income becomes a reality it would undoubtedly impact greatly upon people’s lives, which areas do you think would be most affected and what do you think the likely impact would be?

My hunch is that the main effects could be on people’s working lives (including their work-related wellbeing). Provided it’s set at a sufficient level, a basic income could give people more options in terms of career flexibility and experimenting with different options, including entrepreneurship. It might also support more voluntary work and community engagement. Another area could be the empowerment of secondary earners or non-earners, especially women, in the household. There is some evidence of this from India but of course the UK is a very different case and we won’t know until we do the pilot. That’s also why it’s important in the pilot to look at a wide range of different outcomes, from community cohesion and personal relationships to debt levels and employment behaviour. Our events and discussions have been very helpful in defining the specific questions and areas which are most relevant.

Interview by Felicity Jackson




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