Universal Basic Income: Sign of our times

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, self-proclaimed ‘stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. In this first of a two-part series, it’s Universal Basic Income!

What is Universal Basic Income! It’s an amount of money given to citizens universally, sufficient to cover basic needs & free of conditions. In other words basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Many don’t realise that this is not a new concept and was thought about in the early 80’s to tackle what was then seen by many visionary’s as impending doom for the workers by rampant automation of many jobs from factories to retail and financial services.

We are already in the grip of a worldwide coronavirus pandemic and realisation is dawning on guardians of our current economic systems across the world; that drastic changes need to be made to support citizens in times of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing. The UK like many countries in Europe and some parts of the world, put in place a welfare net to catch people falling behind in life either of their own making or due to circumstances beyond their control. Since 2010 the Tories with support from the Lib-Dems took a wrecking ball to our welfare state which has impacted the most vulnerable amongst us, the working class, disabled, single parents, students, young people and the unemployed.

The current crisis shows us why a complete rethink is required if we have to survive this crisis and any future pandemics. The majority of the UK workforce is living under a gig economy i.e. zero hour and temporary contracts with no sick pay or any other entitlements when compared to permanent employees. Self-employed individuals like myself are always facing the full force of any economic disaster or policy changes by newly elected governments.

The recent budget announcement did not have any good news for the self-employed, low income earners and people claiming in work benefits. The  current rate of Statutory Sick Pay is £94.25 a week, way below what is currently offered in other European nations; e.g. in Germany its £287 and Sweden £230. Currently if you are self-employed or earn below the £118 threshold per week, you are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay! This also means that many workers who are on zero hour contracts or whose status is self-employed will be hit the hardest by the self-isolate policy. It’s also a wakeup call for many that were cheering the Tories for cutting the benefits of many citizens that were mostly in low wage jobs and who relied on tax credits to top up their earnings.

Latest predictions by many economic think-tanks have warned the government to brace themselves for massive lay-offs. redundancies and job losses which will be in the millions. I hope people will realise the importance of the welfare state now and will not rush to judgement on those that access these benefits as they seldom are living a life of luxury but making ends meet on a measly income provided by the state.

By the time this goes to print the UK may have initiated lockdown procedures and as per governments own advice those citizens that show symptoms of the virus should self-isolate for 14 days thereby reducing the risk of transmission to others. Next month I will look at the benefits to society if Universal Basic Income is introduced and the huge savings by doing away with the current system. Until then take care folks and self-isolate if necessary.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on 20th March 2020.

The second part will be published on Friday 17th April edition of the Peeblesshire News.

Long term impact of using self-checkout tills!

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on humans battling with the onslaught of machines in our day to day lives; this week its self-checkout tills.

It’s been a couple of decades since self-checkout machines really took off on these islands. Our two big supermarkets in Peebles have installed them to ease queues and provide a quick and efficient way to shop. I have seen people refusing to use them and some actually bewildered by them and some of course yelling at these machines! Well! It’s the voice activation that drives people nuts; “unexpected item in the bagging area” the dreaded trigger that I have seen provoking normal people into a rage. Staff politely come to the rescue of these stranded shoppers and help ease the frustration by diffusing the volatile situation just like bomb disposal experts.

So! What’s the big fuss you may ask about technology that is supposedly helping us in our shopping experience? Well! Apart from many people who swear by these check-out tills there are many who would prefer to see them gone for good and below are a number of reasons why.

The big benefit to retailers is substantial reduced labour costs. Retailers are all for hiring us as unpaid staff with no legal responsibility to pay taxes, employer national insurance and pension contributions, by doing the job of staff. One member of staff can often run six checkout tills with the work of the cashier now done by us the customer! One of the arguments for self-checkout tills is the efficiency and speed with which shopping can be done but anyone who has used a till will know that it’s not all easy and simple to use. Of course there are some who prefer these counters as they have maybe a single item or a few and in these scenarios it’s well worth using them if staff are busy. Plus a study done in 2002 showed people with disabilities where adversely impacted by the self-checkout tills as most of them are not designed keeping accessibility in mind.

Customers have complained about the repeated sounds of a robot coming out of these tills and this promoted Tesco to replace the robotic voice with more human sounding voices. Being more complex, self-check-out tills are prone to failure on a regular basis. For example, they use scales to weigh goods in the bagging area, and, if the scale fails, the machine does not work. Also, in a manned checkout lane, any simple problems like lack of receipt paper would be immediately fixed by the operator, while self-checkouts may not be fixed for quite some time. This lack of reliability can be compensated for by having excess lanes available or enough staff on hand to perform immediate maintenance.

Retailers are getting massive tax breaks and subsidies from the government in many cases for providing jobs locally but unfortunately jobs are being lost to machines instead. All profits are diverted to shareholders who along with the retailers often avoid tax legally by investing in tax havens. This has been investigated over the years by journalists covering tax avoidance schemes.

Please remember, the more we use checkout tills, the more justification for job losses and less taxes collected to pay for vital public services. Ultimately we end up working for corporations without realising we are doing a great disservice to staff who as part of their role provide a much needed community service.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on 6th March 2020.