The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of the UK social security system and has strengthened calls to further explore how a universal basic income could provide support to people and reduce poverty.
While a basic income pilot is desirable, it is not feasible within the current devolved settlement as necessary welfare and tax powers remain with the UK Government through the DWP and HMRC. I urge the UK Government to engage constructively with the Scottish Government on this matter and discuss next steps towards a universal basic income pilot.
Even with a pilot, it should be understood that such a systematic change to the welfare state would take many years to introduce.
The UK Government has eroded the social safety net over the last decade, through brutal cuts to the social security system and inhumane policies such as the benefit sanctions regime, benefit cap, two-child limit, and the bedroom tax. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights described this as “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous”.
In contrast, in Scotland we now have a social security system which is treating people with dignity, fairness and respect. The SNP Scottish Government is actively supporting people through the “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment and has invested over £350 million to help communities affected by COVID-19.
This is now the time to seriously consider a basic income pilot as part of a UK-wide COVID-19 programme of support to ensure a strong and fair economic and social recovery.