NICOLA Sturgeon said last September that she would consider giving Scottish residents a fixed payment each week whether they have a job or not. This is the so-called Universal Basic Income (UBI) that gives weekly cash payments to everyone, for life.

This could well be a welcome change to the current benefits schemes being operated in Britain. It’s not that the current system is broken, but it was designed for a bygone era. It has become cumbersome and unjust. Think homelessness, think food banks.

The primary purpose of UBI would be to provide basic economic security to everyone, without behavioural conditions attached. It would be paid as an absolute right.

Critics often say such schemes would cause an increase in unemployment and draw in losers from other countries. They also say that UBI is unaffordable.

The concept of UBI is not new; it has been around for a very long time and in recent decades there have been several pilot schemes in, for example, Africa, India, and South America. There have been initial variations in unemployment, but the long-term advantages to the economy and to the general welfare of individuals and their communities have been positive and substantial.

It’s true, of course, that a small number of people will not work, but these people would not have worked anyway. Most people are ambitious and want to improve themselves and a UBI received regularly gives them the security that they need to pursue work as a creative activity rather than labour-dependent wages for a job they may not be happy with.

People are more productive when they are stress-free and have a greater input into society by either volunteering or taking on additional paid work. Entrepreneurs and inventors can also put to use their ingenuity and imagination without worrying about business failure. UBI gives freedom and dignity and is equitable in a way that the current benefits system is not.

As for affordability, that too has practical solutions. For example, the current tax system and benefit payments can be realigned. Also “corporate warfare” which costs the country billions can be diverted for public good and tax loopholes can be closed. While the average waged labourer has his or her taxes deducted at source, many businesses avoid paying tax through ‘tax mechanisms’ that allow them to do just that. In reality these are legal loopholes created by the rich for the rich to help them pay the least amount of tax possible. The Panama and Paradise papers provided enough evidence of these smoke and mirror activities. Should the government wish, the revenue brought in by closing these escape routes to tax havens would be sufficient to pay for UBI without any additional cost to the Exchequer.

Some critics also say that charities are doing enough for the poor and needy. There are more than 190,000 (and increasing) registered charities in the UK. But the performance of these charities is disgraceful with less than half of the average collections by charities going to the causes they represent. One well known cancer charity was in the news for spending as little as 3% of the donations it received on its declared cause while the rest went to ‘administrative expenses’. Reliance on discretionary charity can be precarious, as most of the funding does not appear to help those in need.

With UBI, begging on the street would disappear. Much of the homeless problem would disappear. Most of the indignities of poverty would disappear, such as food banks or children going hungry.

This approach to human dignity is fundamentally an Islamic principle. The first incitement in the Quran is to become benefactors of humanity by sharing inherited social wealth; to spend money, despite the desire to hold on to it, for those in need. The wealth of society, the Quran says, belongs to all its members; it decrees to compensate every individual and for each person to look after each other’s interests. This is real social welfare.

The current benefits system is hanging on a very shaky nail. It stigmatises people, it’s precarious and provides no stability or permanent security. Insecure people are not rational, especially when faced with an uncertain future.

This causes division in society, fuels alcohol and substance abuse, and is dangerous and volatile. The extreme right, as seen in recent years, has taken advantage of this to create tension within communities, especially amongst migrant and religious groups. To provide basic financial security unconditionally for everyone might well be the foundation for a peaceful and harmonious society.

People should have an inalienable right to a regular secure basic income, giving them and their families dignity and freedom from stigma and poverty. The Scottish Government has already reflected this in some benefits such as cost-free medicine prescriptions, which was a cost on illness that the most vulnerable could least afford.

If Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP were to adopt UBI, it would be recognition that every one of us deserves dignity and not charity.

Paigham Mustafa
Address supplied