The Not-So-Radical Case for a Universal Basic Income

By Sharon Chau, Communications Officer

Capitalism is crumbling. Income inequality is sky-high, and has been increasing across the board in both developing and developed countries. Automation will lead to a disastrous displacement of labour – 47% of all current jobs in the U.S. might be fully automated by 2033,[1] while a staggering 85% of jobs in Ethiopia are “at risk”.[2] Given the unprecedented problems which threaten the economic wellbeing and fabric of our society, we need a radical solution.

A Universal Basic Income (henceforth “UBI”) might just be what we need. Originally proposed by philosophers Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill,[3],[4] it involves the regular, equal and unconditional payment of all adults with an amount sufficient to cover basic needs and to enable them to participate in social life, regardless of income level or employment status.[5] It has been promisingly implemented in numerous pilot schemes around the globe. In India, UNICEF carried out an 18-month programme of UBI in eight villages in Madhya Pradesh in 2011.[6] The results demonstrated that UBI improved child nutrition, increased productive work, and raised investment in education, particularly for girls. A similarly unconditional grant given to a large part of the population in Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and India does not rule out working to complement and augment income, and co-exists with informal work. This suits a shifting economic climate, which is especially crucial when many in developing countries rely on the informal “gig economy”. Back in 1974-1979, Canada’s ‘Mincome’ Programme paid a monthly supplemental income to 1000 poor families in Dauphin, Manitoba.[7] Poverty virtually disappeared, high-school completion rates rose and hospitalisation rates fell. Interestingly, productivity also increased. The work rate fell only among new mothers, who spent more time with their children, and teenagers, who gave up part-time jobs for schooling. These tangible results demonstrate the likelihood of a UBI’s success and its potential optimistic outcomes.

Many criticise UBI as an unrealistic utopia which would heavily burden governmental finances. However, multiple studies have demonstrated its feasibility. In the U.K., the introduction of a modest UBI scheme is projected to cost around £200bn;[8]government expenditure and the welfare bill was £814bn and £153bn respectively in 2017. [9],[10] As UBI would be a complete replacement of the current welfare system, it would only require a small rise in taxes and a streamlining of governmental bureaucracy. Hence, UBI is a highly feasible program with minimal increase in public spending.

UBI brings a plethora of benefits for multiple stakeholders, especially for the most vulnerable. Firstly, it reduces the coercive aspects of capitalism. Currently, workers have to take up employment because they lack alternative means of subsistence. UBI provides a baseline capacity for sustenance, allowing people to refuse exploitative labour. This makes work less coercive and also increases wages for unpleasant work, which leads to higher compensation and an incentive for employers to eliminate such tasks. UBI further liberates people from working or seeking work due to the unconditional cash grant,[11] which creates a society no longer hostage to the rule, “No matter how it dulls the senses and breaks the spirit, one must work”.[12] The grant thus challenges an anchoring principle of capitalism that “tethers social citizenship to waged labour”.[13]Additionally, UBI increases workers’ collective power, as unions can use it as an unlimited strike fund to bargain against conditions, compared to limited funds from members that would run out rapidly in a prolonged strike. UBI also grants citizens more autonomy,[14] as the reduced labour time creates room for autonomous activities and production which is not subordinated to the goal of maximising profit.[15],[16] Lastly, UBI provides enough security to enable retraining and job-seeking. Hence it has radical emancipatory potential for the most vulnerable in the capitalist system.

Secondly, insecurity would decrease. UBI provides a dependable, unconditional stream of revenue which many can factor into their worst expectations. It massively reduces stress when one knows that money would appear in their bank account every week if they ever have a rainy day. This security also means additional incentives for individuals to invest in themselves through education, vocational courses or products to increase their productivity. Many people currently save up to prepare themselves in case of financial hardship, but this would be unnecessary if there existed a UBI. Increased security improves mental health – generous unemployment benefits have been shown to offset suicide from losing jobs,[17] and life satisfaction among the long-term unemployed increases significantly when they retire and the social expectation of employment is lifted.[18] Both effects are achieved through UBI, which offers an immediate safety net to anyone suffering unexpected hardships, and removes the expectation of employment. 

Thirdly, UBI produces socially desirable outcomes. Empirically, it has led to higher school attendance in poor households, improved child health and greater financial independence for women. This has been achieved through giving previously unpaid housewives a sum of money every week for children’s healthcare and individual investments, such as opening up their own bank accounts instead of relying on joint ones with husbands. It also subsidises and encourages socially utile activities, including unpaid caregiving within families and volunteering.[19] The social economy, a system which serves members on principles of democracy and solidarity instead of obtaining a return on investment, is also subsidised. UBI provides a decent standard of living to volunteers and aids the integration of the social economy into the mainstream system. Economically, UBI follows the Keynesian idea that downward redistribution of wealth increases consumer demand, fueling economic growth and job creation. UBI also reduces poverty and inequality. Evidence from Scandinavian countries indicates that large-scale, universal provision of decommodified services tends to be more successful in these crucial macroeconomic aims.[20]

UBI is especially beneficial when compared to conditional welfare, an alternative solution to the spectre of automation and poverty. There are many problems with conditional systems, the first of which is the bureaucracy. In the U.S., there are at least 126 federal assistance schemes;[21] in the UK, individuals have had until recently to be assessed for unemployment and ill-health. Each conditional scheme generates a bureaucracy of assessment and the need for constant eligibility monitoring at vast expense.[22] Worse, some eligible recipients do not receive much-needed money due to blips in the system. In the UK, one in five Universal Credit applications are rejected because of procedural errors, leading to many weeks with no income.[23] Compare this to the all-encompassing UBI, where the money is universally guaranteed and spent on the people instead of on bureaucracy. Secondly, the conditional system creates a ‘welfare cliff’ for those who were just well-off enough to lose conditional benefits, but still financially constrained. Thirdly, conditions create financial disincentives for the unemployed to take casual work or workers to increase their hours, which would have rendered them ineligible for conditional welfare. UBI removes these perverse incentives, which is also a strong rebuttal against the anti-UBI argument that people would not work when given unconditional grants. Additionally, there will likely be more political support without clearly-defined net contributors or beneficiaries. Many on the left support UBI due to its liberation of the working class, while many on the right support it as it allows massive downsizing of governmental bureaucracy. To take an example, minimum wage legislation could be abolished as UBI reduces the coercive aspects of capitalism. This broad political support is important to ensure that UBI would last throughout different administrations.

In conclusion, the implementation of a Universal Basic Income is the best response to increasing automation, globalisation, job insecurity and income inequality. Those who lose their jobs are ensured financial security, knowing they receive a steady stream of income even if they take up a job or decide to take time off work for upskilling. Workers are more able to refuse demeaning, exploitative jobs or demand higher wages through increased union power. Free time is increased for people to retrain for new jobs in the digitalised economy or spend more time with children. Higher school attendance, decreased inequality and increased economic growth through the stimulation of consumer demand are additional benefits. Instead of being a fantastical utopia conjured up by populist socialists, as right-wing politicians claim, UBI is an elegant solution to a broken system.

[1] Frey, C. B.; Osborne, M.A. (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?

[2] Oxford Martin School (2016) Impact of Automation on Developing Countries puts 85% of Jobs at Risk. The Future Is Not What It Used to Be.

[3] Paine, T. (1797). Agrarian Justice. Raleigh, N.C.: Boulder, Colo.

[4] Mill, J.S. (1849). Principles of Political Economy with Some of their Applications to Social Philosophy. London: John W. Parker, West Strand.

[5] Allegre, G. (2014). How can a basic income be defended? OFCE Briefing Paper No. 7.

[6] SEWA Badhan (2014). Piloting basic income transfers in Madhya Pradesh, India. SEWA Bharat, UNICEF.

[7] Forget, E. (2011). The town with no poverty. Canadian Public Policy, 37 (3): 283–305.

[8] Nettle, D. (2018). Getting your head around the Universal Basic Income. Hanging on to the Edges: Essays on Science, Society and the Academic Life (pp. 163-180). Open Book. 

[9] Information from:

[10] Information from:

[11] Barchiesi, F. (2012). Liberation of, through, or from work? Postcolonial Africa and the Problem with “Job Creation” in the Global Crisis. Interface, 4(2): 230–253.

[12] Terkel, S. (1973). Capitalism, for better or worse. New York Times, 19 March 1973.

[13] Wright, E.O. (2005). Basic income as a socialist project. Paper presented at the annual US-BIG Congress, University of Wisconsin, Madison

[14] Standing, G. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Bloomsbury.

[15] Gorz, A. (1994). Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso.

[16] Hermann, C. (2015). Capitalism and the Political Economy of Work Time. New York: Routledge.

[17] Cylus, J.; Glymour, M.M.; Avendano, M. (2014). Do generous unemployment benefit programs reduce suicide rates? American Journal of Epidemiology, 180 (1): 45–52.

[18] Hetschko, C.; Knabe, A.; Schöb, R. (2013). Changing Identity: Retiring from unemployment.

[19] Nettle, D. (2018). Getting your head around the Universal Basic Income. Hanging on to the Edges: Essays on Science, Society and the Academic Life (pp. 163-180). 

[20] Huber, E.; Stephens, J. (2012). Democracy and the Left: Social Policy and Inequality in Latin America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; Korpi, W.; Palme, J. (1998). The paradox of redistribution and strategies of equality: Welfare state institutions inequality and poverty in the Western countries. American Sociological Review, 63 (5): 661–687.

[21] Standing, G. (2017). Basic Income: And How We Can Make it Happen. London: Penguin. 

[22] Marais, H. (2018). The Employment Crisis, Just Transition and the Universal Basic Income Grant. The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives (pp. 70-106). Johannesburg: Wits University Press. 

[23] The Guardian (2018). Complex rules for universal credit see one in five claims fail.–turned-down-for-universal-credit-rules-too-complex

The Ultimate Barbara Castle Reading List

By Ella Staddon, Women*s Officer

Castle in 1965

As you may have noticed, last term the annual Barbara Castle lecture was unfortunately not included on the OULC term card. But as your Women*s Officer and local Barbara Castle fangirl, I feel sufficiently qualified to write an article detailing the various books, articles, online lectures and podcasts that might make up for the missing lecture, and convert everyone to the Barbara Castle fan club. 


Online lectures

The obvious place to start in accounting for a missed Barbara Castle lecture is with… a Barbara Castle lecture! In this case, the Fabian Women have got you covered, with this excellent “Celebration of Barbara Castle”. It’s around an hour long and features Rachel Reeves, Dame Angela Eagle and Kate Hollern, all covering different aspects of Castle’s long and impressive career. Probably my favourite bit of this celebration is Eagle’s contribution, which includes the story of the pair of them stood by Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue outside Parliament, complaining about how much they disliked Jim Callaghan. 

Women of History: A Celebration of Barbara Castle, Fabian Women

Historical dramas

Unfortunately, no one has yet written a ten-season series about Barbara Castle detailing every aspect of her life. She has, however, featured in The Crown season 3 (episodes Aberfan, Bubbikins, Coup and Tywysog Cymru) and briefly appears in episode three of The Trial of Christine Keeler. She also, obviously, appears in Made in Dagenham: “Credence! I will give credence to their cause, my God! Their cause already has credence! It is equal pay! And equal pay is common justice, and if you two weren’t just a couple of egotistical, chauvinistic dunderheads you would realise that! God my office is run by incompetents- and I am sick of being patronised, spoken down to and generally treated like the May Queen. Now set up the meeting!” (Go watch it, and check if I got that monologue correct from memory, like the true Castle fangirl that I am).


Unfortunately, a lot of Castle’s interviews are now lost to the ages, but some survive on YouTube and are listed below:

Barbara Castle | British Labour Party | Open house with Gloria Hunniford | 1998

Barbara Castle talks about her Anti-Apartheid Work

Nelson Mandela: Lady Barbara Castle remembers Mandela

Sex, Drugs and Politics, the Lord Lambton Scandal, Part 3/3


Much like the interviews, there is not much footage of her speeches left either. The only two that I could find on YouTube were both on the EU/EEC.

Barbara Castle Maiden Speech in the House of Lords 14 November 1990

Oxford Union debate EEC referendum 1975 Barbara Castle

British Pathé/Associated Press videos

Barbara Castle features in quite a lot of British Pathé videos, so I have not included all of them. If you want to find any more you can look up ‘Barbara Castle’ on the British Pathé’s YouTube channel. 

Barbara Castle Visits Docks (1967)

Labour Party Conference (1968)

(Red) Queen Opens New Tyne Tunnel (1967)

Minister of Transport Visits BR Research Centre (1967)  (there is also footage of Dame Margaret Beckett visiting this same factory nearly 50 years later. I am also in the Margaret Beckett fan club… )

Severn Bridge- New Gateway to Wales (1966)

Mrs Castle Opens The Blackfriars Underpass (1967)

Labour Party Conference (1969)

Vic Feather New TUC Leader (1960-1969)

Labour Meet at Blackpool (1956)

Castle also features in…

Kinnock the Movie (perfect to watch in advance of Kinnock speaking with us later this term!

Political Heroes: Emily Thornberry on Barbara Castle

Harold Wilson tribute (this includes Castle comparing Wilson to an eel about 2 mins in)


Barbara Castle, Desert Island Discs
Could this be the best Desert Island Discs ever recorded? Probably. Anyway, Castle gets into a squabble with the host for telling her she’s only allowed to take one poem to her desert island. It’s hilarious.

Sylvia Pankhurst, Great Lives
If anyone needed any proof that Castle is a massive suffragette fangirl, this is it. This is also hosted by Joan Bakewell, so it’s basically two amazing feminist socialists talking about another amazing feminist socialist.

Barbara Castle, Great Lives 

This is a brilliant radio documentary on Castle, and features my all-time favourite Castle quote too! (‘You will not set free all the dynamic capacity of our country if this little masculine self-contained club of government is going to be able to continue to keep women out.’)

Women’s Hour Power List 2016 (This has an excellent bit with Harriet Harman talking about Castle) 

Made in Dagenham The Musical


Barbara writes!

Historian Charlotte Lydia Riley once tweeted that Barbara Castle was the only good journalist-turned-politician, and proof can be found in the numerous books she published! Castle’s memoir Fighting All the Way, written in 1993, is a fantastic read and the Castle Diaries are hilarious, although you may start questioning how the Wilson government ever got anything done when they’re all falling asleep during the budget, tripping down stairs and getting very drunk. She also wrote a very short book on the Pankhurst sisters, thus demonstrating once again that she was a massive history nerd and suffragette fangirl.

Barbara is written about!

I haven’t actually read either of the biographies of Castle written by Anne Perkins and Lisa Martineu, however I am aware they are supposed to be very good. They are both available in the lower Rad Cam. She gets two chapters in Paula Bartley’s Labour Women in Power (a book I highly recommend- it is incredibly well written and researched) which can be found in the Upper Gladstone Link, and a chapter in The Honourable Ladies vol.1 1918-96, which is available online on library computers. An alternative to tracking down half a ton of books is reading articles that have been written about Castle, which I have attached below. 

Barbara Castle: Obituary

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Barbara Castle, Labour heroine and champion of women’s rights, dies at 91

Political leaders pay tribute to Baroness Castle

Harriet Harman: ‘We feminists don’t go in for heroines much, but Barbara Castle is mine’ (this article is fantastic, particularly if you want to read about Castle telling Harman “Harriet, there is one thing you need to remember: all prime ministers are bastards.”)

Labour’s greatest hero: Barbara Castle

Barbara the brave – a woman to reckon with

The red Baroness

How Barbara Castle Fought to Expose the British Empire’s Shame in Kenya

The Return of the Tribune Rally

Red queen in the pink

Barbara Castle: Transport Minister

‘Committing Political Suicide’: Barbara Castle, ‘In Place of Strife’ and the Battle to Save the Trade Unions

Labour’s Turning Points: The Unions and ‘In Place of Strife’

1970 Equal Pay Act: Barbara Castle’s Fight For Equality

‘Another Historic Advance’: The Equal Pay Act at 50

Happy Birthday Equal Pay? (A bit of self-promotion since I wrote this article last month for the blog!)

100 years of Suffrage: The Labour Women That Made History

Happy Birthday Equal Pay?

Ella Staddon, Women’s Officer HT22

The fight for equal pay can be traced back to the 19th century, culminating in the 1888 TUC conference which endorsed the principle of the same wages for the same work. While there was some campaigning during WWI, it was during WWII that the first moves to legislate equal pay began. In 1945, Thelma Cazalet Kier and Meghan Lloyd George introduced a bill which launched equal pay for teachers. The bill passed, however Winston Churchill turned it into a vote of confidence and as a result the bill was dropped. Many thought this political manoeuvre was a frivolous waste of time, especially when women workers had kept the country going. Unsurprisingly, the majority of women did not vote Tory in that year’s election.

Unfortunately Labour’s track record on equal pay was not much better. Agreeing in theory, but opposing in practice, Chancellor Hugh Dalton claimed that he couldn’t introduce equal pay for women due to the unstable economy. The vast majority of the Labour party agreed with this sentiment, however the young backbencher Barbara Castle openly criticised Dalton, saying women ‘would be deeply disappointed at the suggestion that they alone should be expected to forego any satisfaction of just claims owing to inflationary pressure.’ In response to Castle’s rebellion, Jennie Lee wrote in Tribune that women and equal pay could not be a government priority during the post-war crisis, and that equal pay should not be introduced while miners wages were so low. Castle retorted, ‘in that case, we will wait forever’.

It wasn’t just the Bevanites who disapproved of equal pay – in 1951, Hugh Gaitskell claimed it would drive up prices and increase demands on public spending. He also blocked female Hansard reporters from gaining equal pay, resulting in Irene Ward describing Gaitskell as ‘a little dictator’. Meanwhile, Gertrude Horton, the Secretary of the Equal Pay Campaign Committee, decided to change tactics to appeal to a wider proportion of the population. This included selling badges and pencils with equal pay slogans and endorsing Jill Craigie’s documentary ‘To Be A Woman’.

In 1954, Barbara Castle brought forward a petition with over 80,000 signatures to demand equal pay for women, and was delivered to parliament by Castle herself, Dr Edith Summerskill, Patricia Ford and Irene Ward. The Gaitskellites Alice Bacon and Elaine Burton criticised Castle for teaming up with women from other parties and going against Labour policy, although interestingly their criticism did not extend to Summerskill, a fellow Gaitskellite. The women kept up the pressure and by budget day Rab Butler offered to open discussions about the theoretical introduction of equal pay in the civil service. Ward described the move as being a ‘crumb’ that ‘is already disintegrating’. In 1955 Butler announced that equal pay for non-industrial civil servants would be introduced by 1961. 

By the 1964 general election, Hugh Gaitskell was dead and Castle’s reputation began to improve. She used this influence to ensure equal pay was included in the manifesto, although upon entering government discovered that her colleagues had little enthusiasm to act on their promise. Dr Edith Summerskill accurately told parliament that, ‘in the 30 years I have been in Westminster, each successive Minister for Labour tells us how his heart bleeds at the gross exploitation of women, but explains, with crocodile tears that this is not the moment to remedy the grave injustice’. In Cabinet, Castle repeatedly warned that government inaction would result in women turning militant, and at one point was quoted saying, ‘we have behaved with an inertia worthy of the Northern Ireland government!’. In 1966, she attempted to persuade the unions to push for equal pay to be included in the prices and incomes policy (P&I), however they made it clear that their focus was getting men into employment.

In April 1968, Barbara Castle was appointed Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. Less than 2 months later 187 women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham factory went on strike. The women claimed that they had been unfairly graded as ‘B’ (unskilled), while men doing the same work elsewhere in the factory were graded as ‘C’ (skilled). The (largely male) union officials did not know what to do with the women, many of them arguing that they should go back to work before men lost their jobs. By this point, Castle decided to intervene and negotiate directly with the women. Having called them into her office, she negotiated a pay rise to 92% the male rate of pay, and promised that she would introduce an equal pay act. Interestingly, the film Made In Dagenham credits the machinists with pushing for equal pay during these negotiations, however it was actually Castle who suggested it. It would take a further strike in 1984 for the women to achieve their initial aim of being re-graded as ‘skilled’ workers.

Despite this progress, later that same year women were deliberately excluded from the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers’ (AUEW) pay negotiations. While men’s wages would increase to £19 a year, women’s were to remain at £13, and General Secretary Hugh Scanlon secured a pay grading structure that had women as a separate category from skilled, semi-skilled and labourers. There is a delightful entry in her Cabinet diaries where Castle absolutely lost it with the AUEW management after discovering Scanlon’s betrayal. She credits this incident with her decision to go about introducing equal pay without union support. 

Not only was she at odds with the unions, she also found resistance from her own Cabinet. Roy Jenkins, Tony Crosland and Dick Marsh publicly opposed the bill, and argued that it would be electorally damaging. Although she had by now written the bill, the whips continued to postpone it.

To aid Barbara Castle in forcing equal pay into law, Lena Jeger tabled an equal pay amendment to Jenkin’s Prices and Income bill. Labour had a majority of just 1, and if the bill did not pass it would likely bring down the government. Sat next to Jenkins on the frontbench, Castle threatened to vote the bill down unless he agreed to her Equal Pay Act. The threat worked, and would later inspire Harriet Harman’s tactics when introducing her own Equality Act, which was just as unpopular as Castle’s Equal Pay Act with the PLP for being ‘too radical’.  

The unions and the CBI were still not convinced. In September 1969, the CBI claimed that equal pay was a ‘luxury’ the country couldn’t afford. In early 1970, Wilson sent Castle on a tour of the unions to rally support for the bill with little success, although it did result in a drunken karaoke session with TUC boss Vic Feather where she sang ‘we shall get [equal pay]’ to the tune of ‘we shall overcome’.

On the 9th February 1970, the Equal Pay Bill was brought to Parliament, and Castle proclaimed:

‘There can be no doubt that this afternoon we are witnessing another historic advance in the struggle against discrimination in our society […] While other people have talked—lots of people have talked—we intend to make equal pay for equal work a reality, and, in doing so, to take women workers progressively out of the sweated labour class.’

Lena Jeger spoke out in support of the bill, stating that it would ‘ensure that the women who do the lowest paid, most drudging jobs in society at last get a measure of social justice.’ Meanwhile, Dr Shirley Summerskill argued that we also needed a sex discrimination act ‘to create a climate of opinion and alter people’s views about what is permissible behaviour. Not only must women be paid the rate for the job, but there should not be such low rates for what is known as women’s work.’ Margaret Thatcher was one of the few Tory MPs who came out in support.

On the 29th May 1970, the Equal Pay Act received royal assent, and on the 29th December 1975 it became law. 

But that is not the end of the story. One of the issues that Castle faced was the definition of equal pay. The unions pushed for the EEC’s definition of equal pay for work of equal value, however Castle pointed out that until women’s work was valued equally it would make very little difference. She also pointed out the union’s original definition of the same wages for the same work would not benefit women working in similar- but not the same- industries. She aimed to strike a balance with ‘equal pay for equal work’, and the law was strengthened when we adopted the EU’s definition in 1984, which, alongside the Sex Discrimination Act, covered the majority of women workers. 

However, it would take the introduction of the National Minimum Wage – another piece of legislation which was unpopular at the time of its introduction – by Dame Margaret Beckett to substantially increase women’s wages. It is the NMW that is credited with closing the gender pay gap the most of any piece of legislation or government action since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act.

It has now been 51 years since the Equal Pay Act received royal assent, and 46 years since it became enforceable by law, and yet we still have a long way to go. The pandemic has exacerbated already existing inequalities, and recent data has suggested that the gender pay gap is widening. Now, more than ever, we need ‘deeds not words’, because – as Castle once said – ‘equal pay for equal work is so self-evidently right and just’.

References: 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021) (accessed 29/12/2021)

Jill Craigie, To Be A Woman equal pay documentary:

Harriet Harman, A Woman’s Work, (2017)

Barbara Castle, Fighting All The Way, (1993)

Barbara Castle, The Castle Diaries 1964-70, (1984)

Barbara Castle, The Castle Diaries 1974-76, (1980)

What are the May elections?

Michael O’Connor discusses the importance of the upcoming local elections

Next month, on May 6th, every seat on both Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council are up for election. If they both end up in Labour hands, that gives us a once-in-a-generation chance to protect public services, redress inequalities and fight the climate crisis.

The County Council deals with transport, education, social services and other such issues; the City Council deals with waste collection, the environment, planning, housing and homelessness among other issues. There’s a breakdown here. The City Council is Labour controlled; the County Council is Conservative-controlled. However, the Conservatives only have control because a couple of independents vote with them. Gaining just one or two seats would put a Labour-led coalition in control.

You’ll be able to vote for a County Council candidate and two City candidates on the 6th May. Links to various candidate profiles are included at the bottom, but the main message is: Use all your votes on Labour.

Why Vote Labour?

So, why should you vote Labour? Why should you vote at all? You should vote because local government works better when it’s run progressively and because local government has the power to move forwards on issues such as climate change that affect all of us at a time when the government at Westminster isn’t doing much. You should vote Labour because Oxford Labour is progressive and effective. Here are some of the things that the City Council is doing/has done:

  • Climate. Oxford has some of the most ambitious emissions targets in the country. The council will go net zero this year, aims to go totally zero by 2030, and aims to get the city to zero by 2040. These targets are a decade ahead of government guidelines and are backed up by concrete plans. In turn, these targets reflect the findings of the 2019 Oxford Citizens’ Assembly, which brought together a lot of ordinary people who  then decided . To meet these targets, the City is rolling out the UK’s first zero emission zone in the city centre this year.
  • Living Wage. In 2009, the City introduced the Oxford Living Wage, set at 95% of the London Living Wage, to ensure that all workers in the city are paid a fair wage on which they can live (not much to ask!). They’ve been campaigning for employers to pay that wage ever since. The university signed up last year but a lot of colleges still don’t pay it. Some don’t even pay the living wage.
  • Homelessness. The City Council has adopted a housing first approach to homelessness, meaning that it’s committed to getting rough sleepers a home before anything else. During the pandemic, it offered housing to every rough sleeper and has devoted funds to continuing this approach: Its overall annual budget for homelessness prevention is £9.1million, higher than ever before. The City also promised that it will refuse to co-operate with the Home Office in deporting rough sleepers and has offered vaccines to all rough sleepers.
  • Landlord Licensing. Oxford is a hugely expensive city to live in and as such landlords have a lot of power. The City Council recently introduced landlord licensing, which means all landlords will have to be licensed to protect tenants and ensure that properties meet basic standards.

Oxford Labour is also firmly anti-racist and internationalist. The City Council has committed to an Anti-racism charter, setting out its commitment to making the city antiracist, and migrant justice is at the top of its agenda. You can find Labour’s City Council manifesto here.

Meanwhile, the County Council has been getting in the way of efforts to get Oxford to net zero. It has much less ambitious targets, has blocked the creation of bus gates limiting traffic in the city centre, and watered down plans for low traffic neighbourhoods in Jericho. Its most recent budget imposed sweeping cuts on mental health and youth services. If we gained control of the County Council then we’d be able to properly fund public services and tackle the climate crisis.

As a student, it’s easy to forget about local elections, to assume that they don’t matter, or to feel disenfranchised. But these elections do matter—councils can change things—and they affect us when we’re renting, when we’re working, and also as human beings in an age of climate crisis. Many of the Labour candidates standing this year are young: If you want young people to be represented on the council, as well as a fairer and greener Oxford, then please please vote Labour.

How do I vote?

To vote, all you have to do is go to the polling centre – you do NOT need to bring your polling card in order to vote, but you are strongly encouraged to bring a pen to assist with Covid safety measures. You can find your polling centre here. If you aren’t registered to vote, then register here. You can also register for a postal vote here if you’re not sure whether you’ll be in Oxford. You can register where you live and where you study as a student and you can vote in both places.


There are quite a few elections and quite a lot of candidates. Profiles of many of the candidates in central Oxford can be found on the OULC website.

Michael O’Connor is a post-graduate student at Balliol, standing for election to the County Council in the University Parks Ward.

Feature Image Credit: Paul Albertella