SNP-led cross-party call for a universal basic income rejected by Tories
SNP leader Ian Blackford- “. It will put cash in people’s pockets and help to ensure a strong economic recovery and a fairer society.”
By Democrat reporter
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford today attacked the Tory government for leaving businesses deprived of money during the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking from his home in Scotland at the first virtual meeting of parliament in history, he said it was now 34 days since the Chancellor first announced a package of economic support—at the time, heralded as a package of support for all businesses and workers during this health emergency.
He added: “Yet, 34 days on, thousands of businesses and individuals have found themselves with no income, no support and no end in sight—all because of arbitrary cut-off dates and bureaucratic barriers imposed by the UK Government. People are being left behind.
“Today, the Scottish National party is leading a cross-party call for a universal basic income to finally protect everyone. It will put cash in people’s pockets and help to ensure a strong economic recovery and a fairer society. Can the First Secretary of State give us a straight answer today: does he support that proposal, or does he reject it?”
Dominic Raab, deputising for PM Boris Johnston, disagreed. He said: “The Chancellor has, I think quite rightly, adopted and announced a series of measures, second to none in the world, to support workers through the job retention scheme and to ensure that for those who do not qualify, other support such as an increase in universal credit and working tax credits is able to deal with the challenge. We need to have a very focused approach, providing the resources that we need to those who need them most. A universal income, without being based on need, would not provide that.”
Ian Blackford replied: “Of course, the simple fact is that many people are being left behind. Many people are not getting an income just now. A universal basic income is the right economic policy at the right time. Its time has come.
“More than 100 Members of Parliament from seven political parties—parties from across the four nations and regions of the United Kingdom—have come together to support this solution. Polling shows that 84% of the public now support it.
“A universal basic income is a solution that will provide support for anybody and, crucially, it will leave no one behind. It is a solution that deserves more than the answer that we got just now from the First Secretary of State.
“The Government should think again, because we should not be left in a situation where the self-employed, seasonal workers or others do not get the support they deserve. Will the Government think on this again and do the right thing to make sure that no one is left behind—yes or no?
Dominic Raab declined. He said: “We want to make sure we provide support to those who need it most. I would respectfully suggest that a universal approach, uniform and without reference to need, income or the most vulnerable in our society, is not the way to achieve it.
“Our plan is one of the most extensive in the world. It makes sure that workers receive 80% of their salary up to £2,500. We have already extended that to June.
“We have made other forms of support available for those who do not qualify; the self-employed and others who may not fall within the criteria of the scheme.
“I have made it clear that the increases to universal credit and the working tax credit basic rate, the mortgage holidays and the energy bill deferrals are the way to have a focused approach that targets resources at those who need them most and allows our economy as a whole to pull through this coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, Conservative Peter Bone had questions about the banks. He said: “At this time of national emergency, many people are being forced to use their bank overdrafts, yet the banks are charging 20% interest per year, which they are going to increase to 40% in July.
“At the same time, they are offering savers a pathetic interest rate of 0.1%. Yet these are the same banks that were saved by billions and billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. What on earth is going on? When are the banks going to act in the national interest? “
First Secretary Dominic Raab told Mr Bone he was right to refer to the support that banks need to be providing to customers.
He said: “Thanks to the work of the Chancellor, the major banks and building societies have provided relief to those impacted by coronavirus, including deferring mortgage and other loan repayments, increasing overdraft limits and increasing credit card limits.
“By the first week of April, 1.2 million mortgage payment holidays had been granted. In this national effort, as we pay tribute to those across the country stepping up to the plate, we certainly expect the banks to do their bit.”
Lucy Powell MP put in a special words for High Street businesses. She said: “Given that the hospitality and retail sectors are the lifeblood of our high streets and are likely to face the longest Government-enforced closure, will the First Secretary extend cash grants and come up with a rescue package to stop thousands of pubs, restaurants, shops and venues disappearing altogether?”
Dominic Raab told her: “We want to make sure that the country, the economy, all those small businesses and all those sectors she mentioned can bounce back. The Chancellor has introduced a whole range of measures in relation to both finance—grants, where they are capable of being made—and other tax deferrals to assist small businesses.
“We have to make sure, from the high street to those other sectors that are adding huge value to the economy, that we are in a position, after the coronavirus ebbs and once we come through the initial crisis, to bounce back. “We will do that by looking after all those small businesses and all those sectors that the hon. Lady rightly described.”