I READ with interest Kathleen Nutt’s report in Thursday’s National “Basic income for all would end destitution” (May 9). It’s a great idea, and it has been all along; another progressive, forward-thinking initiative which has already been trialled across the world.

In one fell swoop it eliminates all kinds of administration costs – that whole Universal Credit malarkey doesn’t come cheap!

It also saves having to mop up social and healthcare devastation whilst empowering people to be well. Most importantly, it creates a kinder society where there is empathy and a sense of equality instead of judgment.

The deepening chasm in our midst is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. We all know that homelessness has many causes, and there is no point being naïve about it. But one of the most obvious causes is simple lack of money.

I’ve been spending a bit of time in Glasgow and Edinburgh over the winter. When I see the number of people sleeping uncomfortably in cold doorways with barely a grubby sleeping bag to cover them I feel like crying. Can you imagine having to do that? Crucially, do you imagine having to do that? We are buying into a narrative that tells us we are safe; this is the “others”. Our crusty Etonian ruling elite has let slip many a comment to that effect, telling us that class and breeding keeps us from such a life and that, conversely, lack thereof must condemn others to precisely that life. It’s the way things are, dear – now come away, don’t look at the man by your feet.

When I see the sheer number of destitute folk on the streets of our cities I feel overwhelmed. In the beginning I gave them a couple of quid as I walked by; it’s not much. But after an hour’s walk I find I can’t afford to keep it up, so I look and I don’t know what to say. I give away my lunch, I buy hot chocolates, I ask the people sitting outside supermarkets what they need.

Our language is full of indictment: we “look down” on those who are “lowly”, who are “down and out”. We “walk tall”. We walk on by. We stratify and segregate and we dehumanise; it’s the only way we can override our innate and deeply human sense of empathy. We are encouraged to do so in order to maintain the system: that’s how it works. Where there are rich, there are poor. However, it’s bad for all of us. It dehumanises all of us. I see it through the eyes of my children who, coming from a sleepy Highland village, have never seen destitution like this. “Mum, that lady says she is hungry.” “Mum, that man looks cold.” My heart breaks when I tell them there is nothing we can do. “I could give him my coat,” offers my 10-year-old son.

The truth we know in our hearts is that the person with the harrowed face could be any one of us. We are all only two or three disasters away from that. I’ve been off work because of a sudden health condition; I’m on half pay and I’m lucky. It doesn’t bear thinking about: low income, not entitled to statutory sick pay, DWP assessments ... we know the rest, and that’s before you add in trauma, abuse, care experience, lack of equality and support in education and a rocky start in life. And I know beyond a doubt, there will be comments like “They’re all just druggies, they all have council flats at the taxpayers’ expense really, they’re just making money” and the rest of it.

I’ve heard it all, from polished, suited and nicely breakfasted people walking by. But really: what kind of a society are we becoming? The comfortable aren’t comfortable because they deserve it, and the poor aren’t poor because they have brought it upon themselves. We are all in this together, and I will not teach my children otherwise. That is not bearded liberal softy nonsense – it’s human decency.

This basic income won’t solve all the problems. It can’t. There needs to be investment in mental health services, youth work, addiction programmes, access to education. But this basic income will offer at lest basic dignity to all. It will remind us that we all deserve hope, and that we all owe respect to all.

Lisa MacDonald