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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

UBI and the creative industries

The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – an amount of money paid to individuals on a regular basis, regardless of age, gender, marital status, work status and work history – has been discussed and debated over the years, particularly when the economy takes a knock. The conversation has gathered momentum around the world in recent weeks because of the impact of Covid-19, with Spain being the latest country to sign up, announcing a basic income programme that will benefit upto 1 million families. And a recent YouGov poll found that 51 per cent of the public supports a Universal Basic Income here in the UK.

For the past couple of years Opus have been leading the charge for Sheffield to be a ’test city’ for UBI and we asked them how it might benefit people working, or trying to break into, the creative industries. Sam, one of the Opus team working on UBI asked Toby Lloyd, an artist and founder of the UBI Lab North East, to share his thoughts…

We're all creative. If you don’t think you are, it’s probably because you haven’t had the chance to explore your ideas beyond daydreaming.

The creative process takes time, space and energy. Trial-and-error is necessary to discover anything new, but this is a time-consuming luxury most of us can't afford. Instead we're forced to prioritise going to work and earning enough money to pay the bills.

Ambient music pioneer Brian Eno believes that the biggest restriction on our creative potential is having a job.

"One of the great luxuries of living in the sixties was that you really didn't have to worry about making a living too much," he said in a recent interview. "There was a safety net – I don’t think I ever could have become a professional artist without the year and a half or so that I spent on the dole."

Eno emphasises the importance of the people around us. It frustrates him that we hold individuals up as geniuses because this overlooks the communities that foster and develop our ideas.

He refers to this collective intelligence as 'Scenius', and believes that a Universal Basic Income (UBI) would give us the resources we need to unlock our creative potential - both as individuals and as whole communities.

A UBI would guarantee a basic level of financial security for every citizen, offering protection if you got sick or lost your job. It would also mean you could reject exploitative working conditions or choose to retrain for a different career.

Crucially, it would give everyone access to the resources – time, space and energy – that are needed to explore creative ideas without the pressure for them to make money.

Most creative people are not driven to make art or music for financial gain. The satisfaction they get from working on projects gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in life that many paid jobs can't offer. For many, it's the enjoyment they get from their unpaid creative work that makes their 'proper jobs' tolerable.

Creativity is an attribute unique to human beings, and developing our artistic talents should not be a luxury only a privileged few can afford. Only a Universal Basic income can unlock our individual and collective intelligence, and usher in a new Renaissance.

Toby Lloyd


Read more about UBI Lab Sheffield here, and sign-up for their monthly newsletter here. You can also watch videos by UBI Lab Sheffield here. Let us know what you think.