Now, more than ever, we need a state that lifts people out of poverty and gives them the equality of opportunity to live a prosperous life
By: Christine Jardine —
Rebuilding our economy following the impact of Covid-19 is the challenge at the forefront of many people’s minds as we enter the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic. But while we are undoubtedly going through a difficult, disruptive and, for many people, both physically and financially damaging period there is another aspect which we should not ignore.
This crisis has allowed us to see both the strengths and shortcomings in our society and crucially our welfare state. And I believe that this crisis also offers an opportunity to build a different, brighter future.
During the first and, so far most difficult, period of Covid lockdown we heard numerous comparisons with the community spirit and resolve of the Second World War. But there is another comparison with that period which I believe we should now be taking our inspiration from. Seventy-eight years ago, at the height of the war, William Beveridge produced the report which was later to become the template for the welfare state and our National Health Service.
But while our NHS and its staff have proved themselves more than up to the task, it has become abundantly clear that our welfare is not equipped for this unprecedented challenge.
Too many people have fallen through the cracks of a broken system and feel left behind.
Beveridge’s original vision is undoubtedly one of those iconic British things of which we are all rightly proud. But perhaps the time has come to recognise that a fresh approach is needed for the 21st century.
The concept of a universal basic income, something to which we are all entitled, particularly in a crisis like this one, is an idea that has been around for a while. With every passing day, I have become more convinced that it is what we need now.
Before this crisis, we could already see that the current benefits system was failing to meet the principal aim at its heart, largely through lack of government funding. Added to that we now have more than 3 million people for whom there has been no financial support at all.
People who have changed jobs, been self-employed or for various other reasons have not met the criteria either for the government’s laudable schemes or for universal credit.
That’s not good enough. Nobody should be left behind in this.
That’s why I am campaigning within the Liberal Democrats to adopt a basic income as party policy ahead of our party conference next month. I believe that, moving forward after this pandemic, financial insecurity will be a huge issue across the UK, and a basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society.
At the time of creating the NHS, doubters opposed the idea at every turn, yet now we treasure it. Through this crisis, our pride in the institution and in the principles which created it have been palpable. That post-war generation’s achievement has been the salvation of so many in this one.
Providing a universal fixed income to everyone with no stigma attached has the potential to be our generation’s National Health Service.
We need a state that lifts people out of poverty and gives them the equality of opportunity to live a prosperous life. We have an opportunity to free people of insecurity and anxiety and instead empower them to live their lives with security and freedom.
We’ve seen Finland show positive results, an American presidential candidate put it on the centre stage and Spain is beginning to favour a universal basic income.
Now it’s our turn. I pressed prime minister Boris Johnson at PMQs before recess and will be taking the case for a basic income to him as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.
I want the Liberal Democrats to champion the idea. While we as a party recover from the general election results and begin to rebuild, it is vital we develop a bold, brave progressive policy platform – a basic income should be a core part of that.
Christine Jardine is a Liberal Democrat treasury spokesperson and MP for Edinburgh West