In response to a question from Green Cllr Kieran Wild, at Glasgow City Council full council meeting on 8th Dec, (Labour) Cllr Matt Kerr confirmed that the administration is beginning to explore a trial of Universal Basic Income in Glasgow.
I watched this with delight. As a Green, I have been a long time supporter of our policy of ‘Citizen’s Income’, a more radical version of the Universal Basic Income concept. As a physiotherapist working in a chronic pain clinic, I see many people who are not able to manage full time or physical paid work and who simultaneously struggle to have their condition recognised by the benefits system, often being denied benefits and going through stressful appeals. Stress, of course, makes pain worse, which in turn makes my job in rehabilitation more difficult.
The nature of our population is predicted to change with people living longer with more complex health problems including long term conditions. Currently 2 million Scots are living with a long term health condition which can include chronic pain, diabetes, breathing and heart conditions. There is also a high level of people struggling with mental health conditions such as depression. This in no way means people are unable to work but are more likely to be in need of meaningful social security; flexibility and adaption of paid roles. However, we all have ups and downs with health, wellbeing, and caring responsibilities, and are expected to work longer and in a less secure environment.
It is widely accepted that our benefits system is no longer fit for purpose and no-one would have designed it as it is now. I have little doubt that the impact of Tory austerity and social security sanctions will only worsen things. Glasgow has poorer health than the rest of Scotland, and Scotland as a nation is known as ‘the sick man of Europe.’ Following the release of research by Glasgow centre for population health in May 2016 we know that this poor health relates to socioeconomic deprivation, poor housing and poor government decisions. Notably, the authors of this report also recommended that government do more to redistribute wealth for the benefit of our health.
We only have to look to Brexit and Trump to know what happens when people become disaffected with their life chances. As politicians we should take responsibility and offer more radical alternatives which enable citizens to feel that they are valued and have a stake in society. At the very least we need to begin to explore how we can help people to cover basic needs.
Universal Basic Income is not a panacea, but a well considered trial with cross party support in Glasgow, which explored and evaluated health and wellbeing measures would be welcome. In combination with delivery of good quality housing and other essential features of public health we could start to reverse our poor health status, offering hope for the future.