Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has today called for an intergovernmental summit on a universal basic income to take place to ensure that support is urgently made available for those who have fallen through cracks of the current furlough and income support measures.
Mr Rennie highlighted the plight of self-employed workers who were not trading for the entirety of the last tax year, PAYE freelancers, self-employed workers who are paid in dividends, people who work from home and those who have recently changed jobs as examples of people who have experienced a sudden and dramatic loss of income as well as those struggling to access existing anti-poverty measures.
His call comes as the The Poverty Alliance, Scotland’s anti-poverty network, has identified a number of shortcomings in the current crisis responses, including a lack of targeted social security support for families with children at either the UK or Scottish level, limited access to community care grants and gaps in employment protection programmes.
Mr Rennie said:
“I fully understood and supported the decision to use the existing tax and spend apparatus to help people financially. Time was short and we needed to act fast. Now that those schemes are getting into place we need to take the next steps.
“With economic uncertainty destined to loom for the foreseeable future, we need to ensure that everyone can afford to keep a roof over their head and a meal on the table.
“We should be adopting the principles of a universal basic income: no one should be left behind. The UK Government has acted swiftly to back businesses and support furloughed workers but too many are slipping through the cracks and there’s a real risk that furloughed staff will lose their jobs when the current scheme ends.
“The Scottish Government should work with their counterparts in other parts of the UK to convene an intergovernmental summit and deliver a universal support package that anyone in need can access swiftly.
“For those who turn out not to need it, the money can simply be reclaimed through the existing tax system. There are huge advantages to making welfare support logical and straightforward. Canada has implemented a form of Universal Basic Income and Spain has committed to implementing it. The international case for this comprehensive measure is growing.
“We have taken some unprecedented steps in response to this virus which have been welcomed but now that we have identified the holes in the schemes, we need to go a little further. When I pressed the First Minister, she expressed an interest in a universal basic income. But this is not an issue for later but one that we need to make a reality now."