Assessing the feasibility of citizens’ basic income pilots in Scotland

That this House notes the recent publication of the report entitled Assessing the Feasibility of Citizens’ Basic Income Pilots in Scotland which presents comprehensive and detailed research into the feasibility of a citizens’ basic income pilot in Scotland; further notes that it has been developed by a successful collaboration of local government and public health bodies supported by the Scottish Government; and calls on the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government on developing a basic income pilot and to instruct HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions to co-operate with the Scottish Government as they seek to establish such a pilot scheme.

https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57202/assessing-the-feasibility-of-citizens-basic-income-pilots-in-scotland

Which?’s campaign for greater protection for passengers

I support @WhichUK’s call on the UK government to clarify the rights of passengers whose holidays have been affected by coronavirus. The protections linked to refund credit notes must be clear so that passengers are confident their money is protected. #RefundPassengers  

 

APPG on Gambling Related Harm report

A new report by a cross-party group of MPs is published.

The expansive report outlines a number of recommendations for the UK government to consider, including:

  • Introduce a £2 stake limit online
  • Ban all gambling advertising – as was the case pre-2005
  • Ban VIP schemes
  • A complete overhaul of gambling regulation in the UK

Due to the staggering inaction of this hapless Tory government at Westminster, the gambling industry has grown exponentially while individuals’ lives have been ruined.

The UK government cannot continue to ignore a problem that is multiplying right under its nose. The Gambling Commission is not fit for purpose – it’s time for decisive action to be taken before more families are torn apart by the scourge of gambling-related harm.

It’s astonishing to think that since the ban was lifted in 2005, we have become desensitized to the overwhelming amount of advertisement by gambling across all mediums.

This report is the wake-up call that the Tories need. Rather than pandering to the multi-million pound industry, Westminster must finally put people before profit and act now.

Click to access Online-report-Final-June-16-2020.pdf

Citizens’ Basic Income Feasibility Study Report

A pilot scheme is essential to inform discussions around UBI and the report lays out important steps towards piloting UBI in Scotland.

Scotland is willing to lead the world in UBI research to provide citizens with an adequate level of financial security. However, a pilot scheme can’t happen without full co-operation and collaboration of the UK Government.

Such a scheme would allow both governments to understand the benefits of a UBI and what it could do to tackle poverty and inequality .

The Tory Government has systematically dismantled the safety net of social security over the past decade and while the damage has been obvious for years, the current pandemic has shown it even more starkly.

The current levels of Government support is not enough for people to live on and many are being pushed into poverty and hardship because of Westminster policies.

And don’t just take the SNP’s word for it, this is a view shared and continually highlighted by anti-poverty, children’s organisations and the UN Rapporteur.

Even with a pilot, such a systematic change to the welfare state would take many years to introduce. But a UBI pilot would rigorously test if there is a new way to respond to tackling poverty that would support people out of poverty

If the Westminster Government and its relevant departments refuse to fully engage with this process it will yet again demonstrate that policies for the betterment of Scotland can only be implemented through the full range of powers that come with Independence.

‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’.

On the 1st of July 2015, I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons and in that speech, I said that I grew up in the 1960s and it was a decade that formed me. One of those influences was the Civil Rights Movement. As a child I knew the stories of Rosa Parks and James Meredith. I heard Martin Luther King and Malcolm X rage against the injustices being perpetrated on black Americans. It was one of the highlights of my first term as an MP when I had the privilege of meeting the Reverend Jessie Jackson. To have the opportunity to meet a man who was at the heart of the civil rights movement was something I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. In my maiden speech I said, “I watched the American civil rights movement, massive and dignified, march across America, and, through peaceful protest and civil engagement, change the psyche of a nation.” How wrong was I? Here we are in 2020 and it would appear that little has changed. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer is just the latest outrage. For many it has proven to be the final straw and they have taken to the streets to protest. Their protests have, in most cases, been violently opposed by law enforcement agencies. The slogan ‘black lives matter’ is not new. It has been widely used as a hashtag on social media since 2013. The movement opposes racial profiling, police brutality and racial inequality. It was created after George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges following the shooting of Trayvon Martin. After Trayvon, Michael Brown was killed in St Louis and then Eric Gardner was killed in New York City. After each killing there is public outrage and an outpouring of anger, hatred, love and understanding. But nothing changes. Many will take part in protests because they enjoy a protest and looting from shops while destroying public property sends out all the wrong messages if we are seeking to right a wrong. But we must not be distracted from the underlying injustice and the continued persecution of black people in America. It is a cancer in American society. And of course, it isn’t just America that is blighted by racial discrimination. We like to think that in Scotland we are an open welcoming society. We like to think that we are free from the crimes of our forefathers. The wealth that poured into Inverclyde from sugar was tinged with the blood of slaves. Many local street names are attributed to people who owned slaves. But that’s the past. Unfortunately, the present doesn’t make good reading.

Despite higher levels of educational attainment among ethnic groups there are lower employment rates and under-representation in Modern Apprenticeships. With a lower rate of benefit take-up, ethnic minorities are at a higher risk of poverty, twice the risk of white individuals. And our attitudes doesn’t reflect the mantra that we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns. 22% of people living in Scotland feel that there is sometimes a good reason to be prejudiced. 35% of people believing that Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Black and Asian people came to live in Scotland. 38% believing the same about Easter European migration. It should not come as a surprise to hear that racial hate crime is consistently the most reported hate crime in Scotland.

Rage against the very graphic injustices we are seeing in the USA. Solidarity should never be undervalued and the public and politicians alike must raise our voices to condemn the violent subjugation of black Americans, but it must not end there. I quoted Burns earlier and shall do so again.

 

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a’ that,)

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.

 

Burns wrote that in 1795 when the slave trade was still legal in Scotland. We have made progress in the intervening 225 years but as the facts show, we have a long way still to travel. As we raise our voices in condemnation of police brutality and we support the spirit of ‘black lives matter’ we must also turn a critical eye on our society and ask what can we do here to make sure that what we are witnessing in the USA never happens here.

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

 

Access to Cash campaign

In Inverclyde, there has been a 52.5% drop-off in cash machine withdrawals as a result of ATMs converting from free to pay to use and the impact of Covid-19. This means there is potentially £11,291,778 less cash being withdrawn and spent in the local economy. 

Today, I joined a cross-party group of 37 MPs, urging the government to bring forward promised action to protect access to cash as part of the COVID-19 recovery plans.  A number of MPs have added their voice to calls from consumer groups and business organisations, urging the Chancellor to reverse the cuts made to the fee paid by banks to ensure their customers can access their own cash (known as the interchange fee).  

I’ve been campaigning on the issue of Access to Cash since last year as in Inverclyde around 12 ATMs have become pay to access cash.  This means in Inverclyde people are being charged up to £2, per transaction to access their own money from said machines. 

Cash is a lifeline for millions and is a vital budgeting tool. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought this into stark realisation as many need others to food shop on their behalf while they self-isolate and as millions of people across the UK lose out on income.

HM Treasury could ensure the Payment System Regulator have the necessary powers to act over ATM provision and access to cash.

 

 

UK ‘virtual’ Parliament

Health not hubris

It was only a few short months ago that the concept of a hybrid/virtual UK parliament was almost inconceivable. But, as often happens, necessity has proven to be the mother of invention.

We currently have a solution in place that allows me to carry out my Parliamentary duties from my living room. This means I can take part in meetings and committees with MPs and staff around the U.K., I can take part in the proceedings in the House of Commons including asking questions of department heads and I can take part in debates and votes. The new methodology has not been without its problems and there have been occasions when sound quality has been poor. But that is understandable given the the short timescale that was available to put a system in place. Rather than technology specialists identifying the best of breed and then implementing that in MPs offices we have had to, as a matter of expediency, encompass a range of platforms and broadband providers. MPs have adapted to use what ever was available and in some cases their rather inelegant solutions have been found wanting. Despite its shortcomings, we should not throw away all that we have achieved in a misguided clamour to get back to the old normal at Westminster. Once parliament has fully physically reconvened at Westminster, as it will, we need to push forward. Turning back at this stage would undo all the good work that has been done.

Rather than look upon the current hybrid parliament as a temporary solution we should be using it as a platform to build on. The current hiccups should be addressed and rather than MPs having laptops, iPads, Macs and smartphones propped up on books with the ubiquitous library background and some very dodgy lighting, we should provide tried and tested kit to all MPs. After this crisis MPs having micro studios in their offices should be the norm. We continually tell the public that broadband speeds are good and will improve. Well lets prove that by ensuring each MPs office has superfast broadband. The benefits are many. MPs will travel less which saves time, effort ,money and reduces the damage that travel does to our planet. MPs can combine constituency work with chamber work on a daily basis. Access to a parliamentary life or career would be more accessible to those with a physical impairment. The technology could also be utilised for MPs to ‘meet’ during recess. Now is not the time to halt progress in some misguided attempt to prove that normal service has been resumed.

There have been a few problems and it always looks bad when an MPs sound is poor or a connection is lost while they are asking a question or contributing to a debate. But we must look at what we now have as the starting position and improve upon it. This is eminently achievable if we have the will to make it so. To abandon what we have or to stand still and not move forward would be a gross misjudgment.

I am suspicious of the need to physically have all MPs back in London and I shall not be rushing down. I suspect the real reason is that the UK Government is looking for a display of hubris, one that is designed to put pressure on businesses across the UK to also return to work. We are asking the pubic to accept a new normal and that is why when we attempt to lead from the front, we should be leading in a responsible manner, not grandstanding. Any rush back to Westminster, with the added pressure on transport and house staff that would entail, is irresponsible, ill conceived and potentially dangerous. And we have proven over the last few weeks that by embracing the technological solution and showing greater self discipline, the UK parliament can continue unhindered. It would be wrong of me to travel from Inverclyde to London and back again on a weekly basis. This virus has been contained to a lesser and greater extent by people isolating and I have no desire to undermine that. The UK parliament should be subjected to a public health risk assessment before anybody considers whether 650 MPs from all four corners of the U.K. should risk becoming infected and worse spreading the virus during travel and ultimately within our own constituencies.

New testing site set to open Friday

A new mobile testing site run by the Army is set to open on Friday in Inverclyde.

The site, expected to be based at the Waterfront leisure centre, will provide coronavirus tests.

It is part of the UK Government’s testing programme to determine whether those with symptoms, however mild, have the virus.

This testing will allow symptomatic key workers, members of the public over the age of 65 and those members of the public who have to leave home to go to work, including the household members of each group, to know whether or not they have the virus.

This will in turn keep essential services running.

It runs alongside the existing health and social care key worker-testing programme. All HSCP, NHS and social care providers staff will continue to access the Port Glasgow testing facility.

The mobile testing facility, based initially in Greenock, will supplement the existing site at Glasgow Airport.

Visit this link to find out more about arranging a test: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested/pages/arrange-a-test/

 

A Universal Basic Income to safeguard our future

If any good is to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic it may be that people are seriously questioning some of the fundamental characteristics of our society. Private businesses that pertained to be shining examples of capitalist ideology suddenly required to be bailed out by the UK Governments and ultimately that means by the taxpayer. If the taxpayer is going to pay for them in the bad times, then why does the taxpayer not own them in the good times? And now some of the people that earn the least money are being recognised as the most valuable contributors to our society. Many of them were deemed unskilled workers by the UK Government when they were putting together their immigration policy. Previously discarded as surplus to requirements, now we stand and applaud them. People who had jobs and a steady income and felt secure within themselves, have very quickly succumbed to feelings of vulnerability.

In part, the threat is from the virus but it is also due to the sudden realisation that their livelihoods were more precarious than they had ever imagined. While catching the virus is more likely in crowded housing and without a doubt people from deprived areas will die in greater numbers, COVID-19 has been a leveller amongst the middle and working class. As a result of this, one topic of debate, which has recurred over the years, has seen a surge in exposure and popularity. From Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man, 1792) to Martin Luther King and even Richard Milhous Nixon in the 1960s, the idea of a guaranteed minimum income found support. And while Nixon’s proposal included incentives to work, the basic principle was still the same. That is to say, nobody should be allowed to fall through the cracks and be abandoned by society. Everybody had the same basic rights and it was up to governments to ensure they were provided.

In the UK we have a good example to learn from. At a time of national crisis, the Beveridge report became the foundation for a future welfare state. It was radical but Beverage recognised the need when he said a “revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching”. And around the world today governments are investigating the possibilities of UBI and similar schemes. In the USA, Project 100 is giving 1,000 dollars to 100,000 families, Spain is planning a new targeted support – it is not a basic income due to its conditions, but does represent a desire to create policies which stretch beyond the immediate crisis. Brazil has implemented UBI for 59 million people and Pope Francis said in his Easter message “This may be a time for a universal basic wage”. While the world wakens up, the UK government buries its head in the sand and steadfastly refuses to consider that it may be wrong and that the UK can learn from other countries and we don’t need to be leading on everything. There is nothing wrong with following good examples. It is not a sign of weakness.

There are major questions to be answered and it is up to the UBI community to educate the politicians. And the first question we always ask is, how much will it cost? And even within the UBI community, at that point, heads go down. Many, including myself, will argue that it isn’t just about money. UBI provides choices to people. Provided with a financial safety net people are more likely so seek employment and or education opportunities. UBI does not get reduced in either outcome. Under UBI People are not financially disadvantaged for working and pilot schemes continually show that people are not indolent. Given the opportunity to improve their life people will take it. Pilot projects have also shown improved mental and physical health among the participants. Crime rates have dropped too. And while these are good factors to be encouraged for their own sake they also represent financial savings on the health care and judicial systems.

But we have to acknowledge that ultimately it has to be costed properly and luckily there are many talented people who have done just that. Annie Miller in her book ‘A Basic Income Handbook’ provides a plethora of detailed examples and scenarios, Dr Malcolm Torry in ‘Why we need a Citizen’s Basic Income’, Professor Guy Standing in ‘Basic Income and How We Can Make It Happen’, Rutger Bregman in ‘Utopia For Realists’ and Stewart Lansley in ‘A Sharing Economy’, all further the case. They are all far more qualified to crunch the numbers than I am and I acknowledge that other experts will hold different views. And the RSA’s work over the last few years, including their important work in Fife for A Basic Income for Scotland and current thinking on how we bridge from the current crisis to the future, is helping to shape the policy landscape, in Scotland and across the UK. It is crucial that the UBI community take this opportunity even though it is in the most unfortunate of circumstances, to take the next step and define the definitive scheme. Because the real issue is that until we decide what the scheme is going to look like, then accurate costs will elude us.

Even within the UBI community you will not find 100% agreement on all aspects of UBI. There are a range of definitions and permutations. I attended a UBI conference in Lisbon about four years ago and we spent 30 minutes defining the word unconditional because some people refer to UBI as Unconditional Basic Income and some prefer Citizen’s Basic Income. The truth is that even though the concept has been around for hundreds of years we still don’t have one definitive definition. It’s like a bag of liquorice allsorts. We agree we like liquorice, but which is your favourite sweet? And the current crisis has added to the debate but also the confusion. Instead of making the choice easier it has added extra sweets to the bag, temporary UBI and recovery UBI being the new kids on the block. I have little time for either. By their own admission they have a short lifespan and therefore they are not unconditional. They would exist under the conditions that define their timespan. Be that a period defined as a recovery period or be that a set period of time, most likely a few months. When that condition changes UBI would cease to exist.

It’s not all bad. Temporary could transition into permanent once the benefits were fully understood and temporary would involve the development of a system to handle the money transfer from Government to citizens and that in itself would be a good thing because that would require the development of the appropriate database and the setting up of bank accounts. These are both important pillars in the infrastructure for UBI. I am personally sceptical that the database could be created in the sort of timescale that would be required to implement a UBI during this crisis but that should not put us off. We should start the process because we shall face other crisis and we should be learning from COVID-19 and putting into place safeguards for the future and that is exactly what UBI is, a safeguard. And before we design the scheme we need to define the criteria which must surely be to protect and nurture every member of our society by providing financial security that allows social mobility. And if you are still thinking that the cost of a UBI will be too high, I would say that ultimately the cost of not having one, will be far higher.

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

Article appears on RSA website – https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/rsa-blogs/2020/05/a-universal-basic-income-to-safeguard-our-future

Cruise ships berthing in Inverclyde

A situation has arisen out of the Covid-19 crisis that needs addressed. There is a request to berth cruise ships in the lower Clyde. I have seen the press release but I have not been briefed by the council in this matter and therefore I admit that I don’t know the exact details. I believe it is up to 12 ships and they carry a skeleton crew of on average 150 people. There are no plans for passengers to be on board at any time. The situation, as I understand it, is to allow these ships to drop anchor in the Clyde from the Island of Cumbrae up to the Esplanade. They would effectively be at sea and isolated. I believe this is called a ‘hot lay up’. But the difficulties arise when the crew require to be rotated. The skeleton crew would leave the ships to be replaced by a new one. This presents difficulties. We would need to ensure that both crews were virus free. This would involve testing both on the ships and wherever the skeleton crew were coming from, presumably lots of different places. Who will do this testing and vouch for the health of the crew? And what of the crew members leaving the ship, where are they travelling on to? Are they getting in to trains or heading to Glasgow Airport? Remember at the start of this crisis cruise ships were particularly bad places for outbreaks moving quickly through the passengers and crew. Let’s presume and it’s a big ask, that we can test the crews and that everybody is virus free, what happens when somebody falls ill on board from another illness? Will that place a strain on our local NHS resource? Another issue is that at some point each ship will have to dock. This is required to change crew as previously mentioned and to take on supplies. Can this be done without the ship physically berthing or is there nothing to be gained by that? Who owns the ships? Do they not have a home port that they could return to? Can we share this challenge? This request is not unique to Inverclyde. There are cruise ships anchored in the Firth of Forth already. How are they dealing with this situation? 

The conflict as I see it is this. Greenock is a maritime port with a strong tradition of shipbuilding and a deep bond with the sea and seafarers. When a ship needs a safe haven then it is expected, around the world, that one would be made available. When France fell to the Nazis during the second word war much of the French Navy was at sea. They came to Greenock and we were proud to provide them with a base. Providing shelter in a storm is a given maritime tradition. The situation we have today is obviously not like for like but we do need to ask ourselves, if not us then who? Who are we saying is responsible for the health and well-being of the crew? I would say it is the ship operators. So who are they? How many ships do they operate and where are they all planned to go?

Inverclyde council have said they oppose the plan. But its not their decision. I am sure they could use health and safety policy to make it hard to implement the plan. The rights of access to the Clyde waters doesn’t even belong to the Scottish Government. As I understand it, Peel Ports are the harbour authority and only the UK Government can close a port. I find this particularly annoying as I asked the Chief Medical Officer and the Secretary of State for health on the third of March what plans they had for airports and seaports and as yet they don’t seem to have considered this matter. We, along with the crews, would appear to be at the mercy of a UK Government that have not covered themselves in glory in their handling of this crisis. I shall be trying to ascertain the facts and I shall be pushing for answers from the UK Government.