Universal Basic Income could be a vaccine against poverty in Scotland

Tory Government snubbing Universal Credit proves we should free Scotland from UK

By: Annie Brown

A Caribbean friend of mine taught me a new phrase this week – “a cockroach smoke your pipe.” He was using it to describe being poor in the Caribbean – in other words being royally screwed. It’s an apt description of how many people feel right now as they await the end of furlough and the spectre of economic ruin.

When the pandemic began, scientists locked themselves away in labs in dogged pursuit of the common goal of a vaccine – and the profits it would bring.

The Government, a Tory one no less, dug deep to stop a nation of workers falling off a financial precipice.

Now the vaccine sees us climbing down the tiers while the financial safety net of furlough is about to be pulled from under millions of people.

But there is an alternative, a vaccine if you like, against the threat of crippling poverty – a Universal Basic Income. It’s a simple notion, the human right to a guaranteed income, regardless of social and work insecurity. Ronnie Cowan, the SNP MP for Inverclyde, has tirelessly ­championed this cause but has admitted it is no “magic wand.” But he said: “It is not discriminatory and doesn’t stigmatise – it’s a policy that is dripping in humanity.” The benefits system as it stands is not fit for purpose and is being used as a stick to beat the most vulnerable with.

Its implementation is punitive and callous, inefficient with delays, sanctions and heinous caps like the “rape clause”.

This week it emerged that disabled man Maxwell Quinton, from Glenrothes, left a handwritten note begging his family to tell the Department for Work and Pensions what they are “doing to people” after having his Personal Independence Payment stopped last month.

His crime was failing to meet the deadline to submit his bank statements to the DWP and he paid for the mistake with his life. It is the stuff of Dickensian nightmares, with a country of millionaires and billionaires grinding the poor to dust. For decades I have had a good job and a decent wage and I am thankful for it every day because I have watched the suffering money worries bring. My dad was unemployed for over a year when I was a teenager and I saw him disappear into a vacuum of stress.

There is nothing like the fear of losing it all, everything you have laboured for and dreamed of, because of a precarious capitalist system interested only in the insatiable appetite of the rich.

Those at the bottom are scrambling for copper pennies while the rich get richer. A couple without children on benefits is left with only £8 a day after bills in this country. Before we fall back on the trope of the feckless poor, with their fag habits and big tellies, the truth is a universal basic income (UBI) brings people back to work. There are councils in Scotland ready to launch pilot schemes for UBI ,with Glasgow City Council behind a project which guarantees £213 a month.

Cowan is campaigning for them to be allowed to give it a try.

For the last two years, 125 people in the US city of Stockton received monthly payments of £450 a month in just such a pilot scheme. At the start of the project, 28 per cent of the recipients were in full-time work. That rose to 40 per cent a year later.

This is because mental health and self esteem improved and, even with such a small amount guaranteed, recipients were freed from the paralysis of poverty. The SNP, the Greens and some Lib Dems support UBI but the Tory administration wading in sleaze has no inclination to indulge the poor.

That should tell us everything we need to know about freeing our country from the concrete boots of a Tory Government dragging us below the water line. And Cowan is right, it is about decency and humanity. It’s about Maxwell Quinton and so many like him, who would rather die than live under the cosh of the system which
failed him.

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