EARLY on in the coronavirus crisis I wrote about how a Universal Basic Income (UBI) was the safety net we needed to get through these unprecedented times.

While we’ve seen sizeable state intervention to sustain people’s jobs and livelihoods, it’s never really been enough. There have always been cracks for people to fall through, and while governments have moved to close some of those, more recently, particularly for those self-employed people who’ve missed out, it seems like they’ve just given up.

This week, Glasgow University Union has moved to dismiss around 25 workers - even though they would be perfectly entitled to remain on furlough – because the union doesn’t feel like it would be in the “spirit” of the job retention scheme.

This is likely to be the thin edge of the wedge for the tourism and hospitality sectors which will see thousands more job losses unless urgent action is taken now. What’s more, those losses will fall most on young people who were already struggling with low pay, insecure work and precarious housing before the crisis and will have their opportunities massively reduced as we emerge from it. There’s a very real risk the pandemic will result in a generation being left behind and we should not stand for that.

The case for a social security system worthy of the name has never been stronger and calls for a UBI will only grow after a feasibility study this week recommended a three-year pilot of the idea in Scotland.

The report looked at two potential models of basic income, with estimated costs of a pilot at £186 million. This is a large sum of money but as the study makes clear the transformational potential of a basic income is huge. Paying everyone an unconditional amount that covered their basic needs could virtually eliminate poverty and massively reverse health and social inequalities. This would create huge savings down the line, never mind the immensely positive impact on people’s lives. A basic income would, of course, sit alongside a more just tax system which ensured that the very wealthy contributed their fair share.

Also, to put it into perspective, at the peak of the 2009 financial crash, failing banks were topped up £955 billion from the UK Government, and right now billions are being lined up for airlines and car manufacturers, with apparently no conditions attached to improve environmental performance or pay and conditions for staff. These are all political choices and we have the choice if we want to massively reduce poverty through a basic income.

Having been part of the steering group for the study I’ve learned how UBI could succeed where best efforts of successive governments have failed for communities in parts of Glasgow, home to some of the worst outcomes anywhere in the UK.

That’s why it is the perfect place to lead the world in pioneering new ways of supporting citizens. The world is looking for ways to build back better from this crisis and Scotland can show leadership in designing a real safety net for everyone in society. It’s now incumbent on all levels of government to engage seriously with this opportunity and deliver.

EARLIER this week it was great to see MSPs back Patrick Harvie call in a Black Lives Matter debate for a national museum of slavery to provide proper remembrance of the transatlantic slave trade and its enduring legacy. 

Glasgow Times: Cllr Kim LongCllr Kim Long

My colleague, Councillor Kim Long, had previously won a commitment from the city council on the same issue and I hope we’ll now see some quick progress. But we must also work harder to eradicate the structural racism which still exists in our economy, our politics and our public institutions.