IN my opinion the possibility of running a humane basic income pilot without the buy-in of the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC does not exist.

I hear claims that pilots are going ahead outside Scotland and this has been used by some to criticise the Scottish Government by implying they could run pilots without the backing of Westminster, but they just choose not to. I can’t see that.

If we are to avoid treating the participants like laboratory rats, then we need to ensure that any transition into and out of a basic income pilot is fair and does not expose the participants to additional uncertainties.

The current welfare system has many flaws which result in unnecessary stress being placed on the people relying on it. Recurring re-evaluations of benefits such as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) add to the enduring feeling that recipients can be punished financially.

We can’t add to that by asking people to participate in a pilot project which results in them being asked by the DWP to attend interviews under threat of sanctions for the duration of the programme.

The National: Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey

Thérèse Coffey is Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of the United Kingdom

And we can’t have them investigated by HMRC because they would have received an income for two years that HMRC doesn’t recognise and can’t compute.

To do this would be to add to the pressures that we are actively seeking to reduce. This is not meant as a criticism of the staff of these departments but the instructions must come from the heart of the UK Government to recognise basic income pilot schemes so the staff are empowered to work with them constructively.

If the UK Government is so sure that a basic income is a bad idea, then it should prove it. If it is right, any properly run and evaluated pilot scheme would prove that. Then we can all pack up and go home and the call for a basic income will subside.

But the UK Government won’t support a pilot scheme because it will underpin our belief that it is a humane, appropriate and affordable policy. And, currently, Westminster does not specialise in evidence-based policies.

Rather it chooses to use instinct over intellect. And its instinct says the best way for it to maintain and even increase the poverty gap between those with and those without is to support the status quo.

After all, if your aim is to rule over people and you live in a world that suits you, that returns you to power on a regular basis, that maintains your position of privilege, why would you want to change it?

The evidence from all previous basic income projects and similar schemes clearly says people are not workshy and lazy; that people’s mental and physical health improve; that women are empowered; that children do better at school; and that basic income gives people choices and doesn’t punish them for seeking further education or employment.

It frees them to make choices that suit them at different stages of life. It gives them the power to turn down zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage.

But all of this evidence is ignored and at a time when we are emerging from a pandemic and many people’s working practices could change, we actually have Tory MPs suggesting working from home should mean people are paid less. I only offer that as one example of the mindset of those in power at Westminster.

The National: Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned the UK may face cuts in future

AT a time when we should be offering a platform to grow and a safety net for life, the UK Government is looking for ways to reduce working income, which is mind-bogglingly stupid. Doesn’t it realise that means people pay less tax and have less to spend in their local economies? This creates a knock-on effect and entire communities will suffer. Driving wages down has the opposite effect from basic income.

This is just the typical behaviour of this Conservative and Unionist Government. It walks the walk, pretending to be something it isn’t, like competent or caring. But then they open their mouths, and the truth comes out.

This not a new debate. Basic income as a theory has been around for hundreds of years in different forms and it is often mooted as an idea whose time has come.

When it was debated at Westminster in October 2020, I pointed out that the NHS did not just materialise out of thin air; it was not dreamt up one wet Wednesday afternoon in the Tea Room or designed on the back of a fag packet.

The NHS was introduced on July 5, 1948, but prior to that half of Scotland’s land mass had already been covered by the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS), which had been set up in 1913. HIMS acted as a working blueprint for the NHS in Scotland. It was directly funded by the state and it had ministers based centrally in a Scottish Office in Edinburgh.

It was in all but name a pilot project, allowed to develop and grow; it uncovered unforeseen problems and fixed them. It ensured that, on day one of the NHS, the NHS was to all intents and purposes good to go.

When William Beveridge wrote his report to design a post- Second World War welfare system for the United Kingdom, he said “A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.”

This is such a time, as we emerge from a world-wide pandemic, as furlough is withdrawn, as the gig economy increases, we need a revolution in welfare. The Basic Income Earth Network will this weekend, at its Glasgow-based congress, explore all aspects of taking basic income from an idea to a reality. In an increasingly unequal society, the UK Government would do well to listen.