THE coronavirus has exposed what is broken in our economy. The current crisis is an unprecedented challenge for every level of government. It’s a challenge for politicians to work together as never before and it’s also a challenge for our whole society to show that the values of compassion, solidarity and mutual care are what matters at a time like this.

These values are the polar opposite of the self-centred, individualistic values promoted during the long dominance of hard-right economics.

The last economic crisis resulted in bailouts for the banks that caused the problem, instead of the people who suffered the consequences. The crisis which is being caused by today’s public health emergency must not be allowed to end the same way.

There are so many people in our society – people keeping our public services going but also every carer, cleaner, supermarket worker and many more – whose work is essential to help us all get through this, and they need our support.

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Emergency laws are being brought in by the UK Government and it’s beyond question that the state must step up to protect people in a national crisis.

But even as free-market ideology breaks down, the UK Government remains unwilling to look beyond it to see what is glaringly obvious: that this epidemic has exposed how broken our economy was all along.

It is the state which must provide the security people need right now, a security that the free market failed to deliver even in good times.

Coronavirus has revealed just how many of us are in a precarious financial situation, and the impact that can have when things change suddenly. Self-employed people have seen their income disappear. Small, independent businesses have lost all their customers.

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Freelance and zero-hours workers have been dropped or told to accept savage pay cuts. The cultural hubs that bring our communities together, like pubs, cafes, theatres and sports clubs, are facing financial ruin.

It is the role of government to protect those who are facing destitution. So far, the UK Government has offered reassurance to businesses and landlords. There are business loans and so on, but nothing yet to guarantee people’s incomes.

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I’d have no problem, for example, with a bailout for airline workers, but it was sickening to hear multi-billionaire Richard Branson pleading from his private island that his business needs public money while pretending that he can’t afford to pay his own workers.

We are seeing governments across Europe take stronger measures, directed at the people who need support. Ireland, for example, is providing a basic income to self-employed people; France is suspending rent and energy bills, and Sweden has guaranteed 90% of people’s pay. The UK’s response so far fails to match this kind of action. We should be guaranteeing people’s basic income and that there will be no evictions as a result of this epidemic.

Suspending utilities, council tax, mortgage and rent payments seems an obvious step, but protecting people’s income requires a change of thinking from what has become the UK’s default position.

Welfare cuts founded on false claims that people prefer benefits rather than rewarding work have eroded the UK’s safety net, and weakened the position of workers in pay negotiations.

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Ours is an economy which prioritises growth at all costs, and we’re facing a situation where that cannot continue. Greens have long argued that economic policy should focus on things such as our health, our environment, our rights and our sense of community.

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A basic income is an idea which has interested the Greens for some time, was part of our Green Yes platform during the independence referendum, and is now gaining traction as a result of this situation.

This week, some Scottish MPs at Westminster took up the cause of a universal basic income. This is something that is already being tested in Scotland, and should be rolled out urgently as an emergency measure. The First Minister said it could be essential going forward.

A letter published by 500 academics this week argued the same point. They proposed a £1000 cash payout per person, per month, which would cost the UK Government about £66 billion a month until a vaccination was found.

It sounds like a lot of money, but over the course of the epidemic it would likely be less than the nearly £500bn bailout the UK paid to financial institutions during the 2008 financial crisis.

Such a measure would have a more profound impact on our society than the 2008 bailout too, preventing destitution and homelessness, protecting our culture and people’s spending power. It would build on the solidarity already being shown by people who are responding to enforced isolation by reaching out to help others who might be worst affected.

Finally, the soundbite of “we’re all in this together” could have some meaning.