Alison Johnstone: Time has come for Citizen’s Income

A protest against the eviction of families in Pilton following benefit cuts. Picture: Greg Macvean
A protest against the eviction of families in Pilton following benefit cuts. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Inequality and poverty are crucial issues in the Westminster election, as the bulk of our social security system remains under UK Government control. Unsurprisingly, Tories are desperate to talk about anything else, to divert attention from their cruel welfare reforms.

Take the Tory cap on benefits. It has had real consequences for families here in Edinburgh.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone

Green MSP Alison Johnstone

As the Evening News has reported, a mother with three children under eight was forced to leave her privately rented home in Wardieburn due to the benefit cap. Her benefits were cut, leaving her trying to find £372 of her £785 monthly rent, despite being unemployed.

The council offered space in a hostel, then temporary housing. It could be 18 months before the family secures permanent housing. Just think of the effect on children’s physical and mental health from this lack of security. Hundreds more people are in similar situations, with a revised cap quadrupling the number affected.

Lifting the cap would be a start but we should go further if we want to eradicate poverty.

A Basic or Citizen’s Income – a universal payment to all rather than the current mean-spirited benefits system – is a longstanding Green policy which has been gathering momentum. Trials are planned in Fife and Glasgow, and countries such as Finland are piloting it.

Green colleagues standing for Westminster, such as Lorna Slater in Edinburgh North & Leith, are determined to get this bold idea on to the UK agenda. It would give everyone the opportunity to change jobs, raise children, care for the elderly, pursue education, be creative or start a new business, without ending up on the breadline. Women in particular would benefit. The late Scottish economist Professor Ailsa McKay said that a Basic Income recognises the “diverse roles of women as wives, mothers, carers and workers”.

Research shows if we set the rate at £100 a week for working-age adults and move to a fairer tax system that asks the wealthy to contribute more, we join the most equal countries in the world. Lower-earning households would be better off. It would enable more people to participate in the economy. Reducing inequality leads to successful economies.

A quarter of a million children in Scotland live in poverty. Holyrood can only do so much with devolved powers. Rather than mopping up Westminster’s mess, we need to tackle this problem at source. Basic Income is an idea whose time has come.

Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian