THERE is perhaps no more important role for a modern government than its duty of care to its citizens. We have created a welfare state and we rightly look upon achievements such as the NHS and the social security system with pride.

But modern Britain appears to be turning its back on these achievements and that duty of care. With its increasing reliance on caps, cuts and harmful sanctions, the UK is becoming ever more punitive and callous towards the most vulnerable in our society.

People who receive social security payments are being increasingly marginalised as “scroungers” or worse. All this in the name of the austerity we’re told we need to endure in order to pay for the failure of banks more than a decade ago.

READ MORE: Common Weal report sets out how an independent Scotland could create a fairer benefit system

Scotland needn’t accept this. Scotland should be able to build something better which works for all of us. Independence offers us an opportunity to do this.

Welfare is one of those subsets of powers which is largely reserved to UK Government level. Even as new powers come to the Scottish Government after the last round of devolution, much of the underlying infrastructure remains unified across the UK.

As such, even if an independent Scotland was to seek merely to replicate the UK welfare system, it would still need to build a new IT and administration system to operate it. As this work will need to be completed anyway, it would be a missed opportunity if we did not seek to improve the system at the same time.

Common Weal’s paper, titled Social Security for All of Us, opens this discussion up by offering potential avenues which Scotland could go down. We examine the comparatively low level of social security spending in the UK, especially compared to some Nordic countries, and offer some benchmarks for improvement.

The paper also calls for the social security system to be expanded to ensure asylum seekers are adequately protected from hardship and discrimination (the right to work should also be extended to this group). The UK’s attempts to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants and asylum seekers is an indicator of a country that cares little about the most vulnerable and should be ended.

On policy, a Job Guarantee Scheme is discussed, in which the government would become the “employer-of-last-resort” and would actively offer jobs to those seeking work rather than relying on the UK’s present system of sanctions and Workfare. This cannot be a complete replacement for the social security system – there are many who either do not want to work or are unable to – but may be a useful addition to the government’s economic policy framework. More closely linked to welfare are policies such as a negative income tax. The negative income tax allows for an automatic tax credit to be paid when income falls below a certain threshold – for example, the Living Wage.

As this occurs via the tax system, it is more inclusive than a means-tested benefit and may have advantages such as smoothing out the earnings of people on irregular or seasonal incomes. The tax could be structured in such a way that the tax credit offered to people on zero income would be the equivalent to the current Carer’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Allowance, which would eliminate benefits going unclaimed due to the rigmarole and stigma involved in ensuring eligibility. This could bring many out of hardship.

Finally, we look at the potential for a Universal Basic Income – a policy which is being discussed at increasingly high levels, such as at the United Nations. A UBI (sometimes also called a Citizen’s Income) would give every resident of Scotland a regular payment regardless of circumstances or other income.

This would eliminate the need for many current benefits (though some, such as disability payments, would remain). Those who earned a sufficient income would see their income tax increased to recover the UBI, but overall some four-fifths of households would be better off under this system. Previous trials have shown the benefit of UBI in terms of improvements in health, wellbeing and education, and the knowledge one has a guaranteed income may mean the freedom to explore other opportunities in life such as starting a new business, learning new skills or supporting art and cultural endeavours.

What is clear in all of this is that whatever path Scotland chooses, the mistakes and failings of the UK’s welfare system cannot be allowed to be replicated upon independence.

Scotland can use the opportunity presented by independence to build a social security system which works for all of us.