Universal Basic Income (UBI) protects society

During the COVID-19 outbreak the UK and Scottish Governments have been trying to safeguard the citizens of the UK and its constituent parts. Initially physical health and wellbeing was to the fore. Washing our hands and practicing safe distancing were advised. Cleanliness and isolation were the two main tools to stop the spread. It soon became apparent that too much isolation was going to lead to mental health problems and so digital social networking was encouraged and interaction from a safe distance became a thing, whether that be singing from balconies or shouting across the street.

But as more and more businesses struggled to survive the Governments put in place measures to safeguard people’s income. The options available included applying for grants, business rates breaks, furloughing employees and so on. But because of the complexity of the workplace and the myriad of different working conditions it was obvious that there was no one size fits all solution.

The governments understood the need to keep people on the payroll and paid but people on PAYE differ from contractors, and contractors in the I.T. business differ from contractors in the creative arts. Self-employed and sole traders plough a different furrow and what about people on zero hours contracts? This complexity sparked an interest in a very basic solution that would cut across all work barriers and all income brackets. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not a magic wand and would not solve all the issues that we are experiencing but it would have made life an awful lot easier for the vast majority of people, especially those applying for Universal Credit (UC) for the first time and it would take the pressure off the increasingly stretched UC system. UBI works on the principle that it is a safety net for society. Its aim is to provide a basic income to every citizen over the age of 16. It isn’t means tested or determined by your job status. It is a guarantee that you can keep a roof over your head and food on the table. In the long run, it allows people to make choices about work or study. It empowers individuals to plan long term and fulfil their potential, safe in the knowledge that if they slip or fall then they will be falling back on their UBI and won’t starve or be made homeless.

The difficulties that we have experienced in trying to help people who now find themselves in a precarious situation due to the COVID-19 crisis have highlighted the complexity of both the employment place and the social security system. But it has also shown that major changes can be made when there is the political will to do so. Nobody could have foreseen the far-reaching affect that COVID-19 would have but we would be foolish to think that something similar could never happen again. We should be taking this opportunity to start building that safety net. We should be creating a platform that allows the UK government to pay each citizen a monthly sum of money. At this stage the amount isn’t important. All we are doing is creating a system that can be utilised to pay money to everyone regardless of status or income. Then in times of trouble the amount can be increased. Once in place we can start looking at this platform as a way to provide a UBI and we can dismantle large chunks of the existing cumbersome and complicated system. It is not a solution without complexities, but it is a solution that destigmatises poverty, gives comfort to everyone and relieves the anxiety that far too many people experience on a daily basis. If any good is to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic maybe it will be driven by the fact that it made us all feel vulnerable, for some people it may be the first time in their life they have felt that way. UBI protects society, it replaces precarious finances and provides a basis on which we can grow and importantly rely on in times of crisis whether they be national or individual.

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

Greenock Telegraph 27th March 2020

We are living through the most extraordinary of times. Our community has been required to make changes to minimise the harm that will fall upon it. And as the days and weeks go by we shall have to make more. In most crisis I would expect people to rally round and help each other. Some politicians have attempted to invoke the spirit of the blitz. I don’t think that’s appropriate for a number of reasons, but the comparison doesn’t stand scrutiny anyway. During the war, communities faced a common enemy for periods of the day or night and then rallied together to make the best of what they could. Even during air raids, the shelters became a place of community. But the solution to COVID-19 demands isolation. Many of us can’t risk mixing with older family members or those with underlying health conditions. It is prudent to keep all our human contact to an absolute minimum. The irony of that is while isolation will protect us from the virus and ensure our physical health, it can be bad for our mental health. Social media, which can be a curse at times, could turn out to be a blessing. Products that allow us to talk to and video people all over the globe are just as useful to talk to people much closer to home. Whereas before it may have seemed strange to Skype or Zoom somebody that lives on the same street as you or a friend that you know you will see later that week, now it is important that we do. Create your own wee digital community. It doesn’t need to be a long chat, just checking in to make sure someone is alright. A phone call or a text can make all the difference. We can help each other through the coming weeks and out of sight must not mean out of mind. Today and in the coming weeks, please wash your hands, only go out when necessary and keep in good health, physically and mentally. The tide will turn.

 

Letter to Inverclyde businesses – COVID-19

Dear Inverclyde business,

Coronavirus is affecting all our daily lives including our workplaces. I recognise the very challenging position that many employers and employees are now facing.

In this public health crisis it is vital that ALL businesses act responsibly and align fully with the social distancing measures introduced to protect the nation’s heath, well-being and economic future. As such I would advise all business premises, sites and attractions to close now unless:

  • essential to the health and welfare of the country during this crisis (as defined below); or
  • supporting (or being repurposed to support) essential services; or
  • capable of working in a way which is fully consistent with established social distancing advice; or
  • wider public health, health and safety or other considerations apply and require a facility or service to continue to operate or a specific period of time for a safe shutdown process to be completed.

Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors definition: 

those facilities, systems, sites and networks necessary for the functioning of the country and the delivery of the essential services upon which daily life in Scotland depends. Essential services are the fundamental services that underpin daily life and ensure the country continues to function. There are 13 designated CNI sectors (Energy; Communications – Telecommunications, Public Broadcast, Postal Services, Internet; Government; Transport; Finance; Civil Nuclear; Defence; Chemicals; Space; Government; Health; Food; Water and Waste; Emergency Services) but not everything and everybody within a national infrastructure sector is ‘critical’.

If you do not meet the criteria of critical then my advice is to close now. The job retention scheme may make that process easier.

Job Retention Scheme: 

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all employers in the UK will be able to access support to continue paying part of employees’ salaries who would otherwise have been laid off during the ongoing crisis.

Furloughed workers are employees whose employers cannot cover staff costs due to coronavirus, and as such they have been asked to stop working but have not been made redundant.

Such employers are now able to access support to continue paying part of their staff’s wages, to avoid redundancies and so they can retain their teams.

To avoid fraud, there are expected to be cross-checks between the applications for grants against PAYE records for each employer.

Employers will be required to make one claim for the entire workforce, record how many workers are covered and will need to keep records.

How the scheme works: 

  • The employer should discuss with affected employees and notify them (preferably in writing) that they have become ‘furloughed workers’. ACAS have suggested information that should be included. An adapted letter has been attached.
  • The employer can claim a grant of 80% of workers’ wages up to £2,500 a month once they have been furloughed.
  • The employees remain on the payroll deducting tax and national insurance under the pay as you earn (PAYE) system.
  •  If employers want to top up pay levels, they can, but will not be able to claim for more than 80 per cent of £3,125.
  • The employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and employee’s salary but does not have to.
  • The furloughed workers should not undertake work for their employer while they are furloughed.
  • The scheme is available to all employees.
  • The employer needs to get agreement from the worker to do this, unless it’s covered by a ‘lay off’ clause in the employment contract.
  • The employer needs to submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings. The submission will be through a new online portal which is expected before the end of April (HMRC will set out further details on the information required).
  • If an employee’s salary is reduced as a result of these changes, the employee may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.
  • For employees on zero-hour contracts, the employer can use the monthly pay in February 2020 as a benchmark for each person’s pay when furloughed. If any employee did not work in that month, they should claim Universal Credit.
  • If employees have to stay at home to look after young children, the employer is likely to be allowed to claim compensation if they furlough these workers.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020 but will be extended if necessary.

HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

It is expected that employers borrow or self-fund in the short term to provide the wage package.Below are a few websites that contain additional information that may prove useful. HMRC guidance on:

COVID-19 support for businesses can be accessed here   

COVID-19 guidance for employees can be accessed here.

If a business needs short term cash flow support, it may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Funding sources to support businesses in Scotland facing coronavirus https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/coronavirus-advice/sources-of-funding.

These are difficult times but if we all do what is necessary then we will get through them quicker and normal service can be then be resumed. By working together we can minimise the damage to the economy and save lives.

Yours sincerely,

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

 

 

Written question – Universal Credit [25/03/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of removing the five-week wait for claimants to receive their first universal credit payment during the covid-19 outbreak. (30849)

Tabled on: 17 March 2020

Answer:
Will Quince:

As both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have made clear, the Government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID 19 and we have been clear in our intention that no one should be penalised for doing the right thing. These are rapidly developing circumstances, we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

The answer was submitted on 25 Mar 2020 at 13:00.

 

Business and social distancing

Dear Inverclyde business,

Re: Business and social distancing

I am writing to urge you to please follow the Scottish Government’s advice regarding business and social distancing – https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-business-and-social-distancing-guidance.

I recognise these are difficult times but I would ask that you act responsibly and align fully with the social distancing measures introduced to protect the nation’s health, well-being and economic future.  If that is not possible, then I would ask that you close down until you are advised otherwise.

Yours sincerely,

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

Written question – Basic income [23/03/202]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of introducing a basic income to provide financial assistance to people affected by covid-19. (30848)

Tabled on: 17 March 2020

Answer:
Mims Davies:

As both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have made clear, the Government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID 19 and we have been clear in our intention that no one should be penalised for doing the right thing. These are rapidly developing circumstances, we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

The answer was submitted on 23 Mar 2020 at 17:15.

 

Inverclyde and COVID-19

The community of Inverclyde is going through a difficult and demanding period. This is our biggest peace time challenge. It may seem unreal, there are no obvious signs of the threat but the infections continue and the deaths too. We are not alone in this. COVID-19 is causing disruption all over the world. And across the globe communities are coming together to fight it. The action we take will determine the number of people that contract the virus and consequently the number of people who die. The advice from Government and council is based on the most up to date available. It will change as time goes by. That is why it is important to keep checking the appropriate websites, watch the news and be prepared to adapt. Every individual has a duty of responsibility to the community and each individual must be prepared to accept that and act upon it. This will mean changing our working habits, travel plans, social life and family life. The vast majority of people in Inverclyde understand that and are acting accordingly but, as always, there are a few selfish people who think they know better. It is up to the authorities to take the necessary action and up to Government to give them those powers. They think they know better or that it is a problem for other people to handle. It isn’t and I am not being overly dramatic when I say people will die because of their action. In times like these, people will look to the authorities for guidance and help. In the UK we have stumbled into this crisis and mistakes have been made but we are slowly getting it right. The pressure on the emergency services is extreme and as always the men and woman of our emergency services will rise to that challenge. We owe them a great debt. We always do. COVID-19 is affecting all our lives and we need to accept that. As businesses and organisations adapt so must we. It is a time to be more tolerant of others, many people will be scared of the isolation, worried for their or loved ones health or just more tired than usual. If we all get the basics right we can slow the spread, flatten the curve of infections and come out of this stronger and wiser as a community. This is not like any crisis we have experienced before. The solution may literally be in our own hands. So please wash them and observe the advice around social distancing. By acting responsibly you will save lives and help bring this crisis to an end.

 

COVID-19 – hotlines

BUSINESS ADVICE 

SCOTTISH BUSINESS OWNERS – ADVICE (SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT)

Scottish Enterprise helpline: 0300 303 0660.

Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm

 

SELF-EMPLOYED / BUSINESS OWNERS – TAX CONCERNS (UK GOVERNMENT)

HMRC helpline: 0800 0159 559

Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm.

 

PERSONAL ADVICE

NO SYMPTOMS BUT LOOKING FOR GENERAL ADVICE (SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT)

Scottish Government helpline: 0800 028 2816. 

Open daily from 8am – 10pm

 

IMMIGRATION ADVICE (UK GOVERNMENT)

Home Office helpline: 0800 678 1767

Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

 

Written question – FCO, travel advice [19/03/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what (a) travel advice and (b) recourse to funds his Department is providing to people who’ve booked travel and accommodation abroad to attend sporting events which become cancelled or played behind closed doors. (28665)

Tabled on: 12 March 2020

Answer:
Nigel Adams:

The global response to coronavirus is developing rapidly, with many countries imposing travel restrictions and closing borders and we have now taken the step to advise against all but essential travel globally. We urge all British nationals in country to speak to their travel provider if they wish to return to UK and follow the guidance of local authorities while they remain overseas. Travellers should speak to their tour operator, airline, transport/accommodation provider and insurance company (as applicable) to discuss the options available to them.

The answer was submitted on 19 Mar 2020 at 15:49.