Universal Basic Income: Sign of our times – Part Two

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 final column of a two-part series, it’s Universal Basic Income!

In my previous column I explained that Universal Basic Income is 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. I also compared the economic devastation that the virus has inflicted on the poor and working class around the world who are mainly daily wage earners, freelancers, working on zero hour contracts and self-employed.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced policies to help support businesses and employees including the self-employed, albeit with many restrictions, rules and thresholds which ultimately will not support the very people I have described above. The Tories since 2010 have been instrumental in decimating our public services in the name of balancing the books and targeting the welfare state for sins of the corporation and banks. They started the policy of social cleansing and now are promoting social distancing!

So! What are the benefits of universal basic income to society? For starters it could help support unpaid care workers, ending abuse where normally it’s the women who are trapped in a violent relationship and don’t have the means to leave the relationship, ending poverty, helping blue collar workers who are being made redundant due to technology and automation, discouraging low wages, and most important it will eliminate the social security system once and for all. There are many positives to doing away with the current system in place which only perpetuates stigma and stereotyping about anyone claiming benefits.

Right-wing parties (Tories/UKIP/BNP/Brexit Party) and the tabloid press, target vulnerable and hardworking communities. The system is not user friendly and very complicated due to different levels of thresholds (pre Universal Credit) but the current Universal Credit being introduced is far worse than the previous one because it tries and fails miserably to combine six very different benefits. A lot of stress and anxiety is caused to navigate the system and is prone to errors from the beginning. We need a complete rethink of the way all citizens are helped and supported from a financial standpoint. This is where universal basic income comes in to alleviate all the problems and issues of the current system which relies on means testing if you are eligible for these benefits and many are not because of the savings limit. The government will also save huge amounts of money spent just trying to administer these benefits as all individuals will be given a lump sum amount to pay for all basic necessities and expenses which include; rent/mortgage, food, utilities, clothing, travel etc.

With all the basics covered everyone will be free to be creative and entrepreneurial in their thinking and attitudes towards work. This will allow many to start a business or take up a new career without having to think about the financial fallout of their decision. We will have a better society with communities across the country taking pride in their new found financial freedom. We have been brainwashed into believing that the trickle down economic policies work but what it has managed to do was to create a big divide between the rich (1%) and poor (99%). If money is handed out to each and every adult in the country they will be spend it on local businesses and keep the money circulating in the country rather than through  shareholders and CEO’s siphoning all the profits to tax-free overseas accounts!

Finally what should we pay out to each individual per month? Reform Scotland a Think-tank recently published the following figures; £5200 a year (£433 per month) for every resident in Scotland and £2600 (£217 per month) for all under-16’s. They reckon it will cost the Scottish government  around £20.4 billion a year and monies could be raised by increasing income tax and scrapping personal allowances and some benefits. Though I agree with the general theme of this policy, it’s too little to make a difference to the very people we are trying to help. The cost of living has skyrocketed since the 2008 financial crash and matters have only got worse since this pandemic with prices of many food items increasing by 30%.

If the UK government and all devolved administrations don’t come up with a viable solution soon, I am afraid we are quickly moving into unknown territory. Food shortages and lack of safety equipment is causing riots around the globe and it is not far before we may see a similar situation enfolding on these islands. I hope common sense and empathy from our politicians prevail and they guide us through this crisis in a compassionate manner.

Please stay at home and be safe.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 17th April 2020.

The first part was published on Friday 20th March edition of the Peeblesshire News.