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Unhealthy Body, Unhealthy Mind: Covid and the Case for Universal Basic Income

June 29, 2021 – 11:24 am |

 
The effect of the pandemic must be combatted not just through medicinal but monetary means.
Benjamin Maslow who created his hierarchy of needs stated in his book The farther reaches of human nature that “The need for ‘dignity, for example, can be seen as a fundamental human right in the same …

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Unhealthy Body, Unhealthy Mind: Covid and the Case for Universal Basic Income

Submitted by on June 29, 2021 – 11:24 amNo Comment

 

Universal Basic Income, post-Covid: “Cash Injection"

The effect of the pandemic must be combatted not just through medicinal but monetary means.

Benjamin Maslow who created his hierarchy of needs stated in his book The farther reaches of human nature that “The need for ‘dignity, for example, can be seen as a fundamental human right in the same sense that it is a human right to have enough calcium or enough vitamins to be healthy.”

These words written in 1971 have a very poignant meaning in today’s society during a pandemic which has exposed not just a broken NHS, that has been neglected during ten years of austerity, but of the glaring inequality within the UK.

The UK-based charity Health Foundation 2020 piece states that “Income and health can both affect each other” and that those on lower incomes have to constantly deal with more stressors which can be detrimental to health, and this, in turn, can affect a stable employment and income.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) Editorial of 2016 highlights this link between ill health and inequality, referring to a Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiment conducted in Dauphin, Canada, in the 1970s. The experiment gave every citizen a regular, unconditional payment, and results showed that there were “statistically significant benefits for those who took part” and “included fewer physician contacts related to mental health and fewer hospital admissions for ‘accident and injury.’ Mental health diagnoses in Dauphin also fell.”

Similar UBI schemes were rolled out in Finland in 2017–2018 and Scotland in 2017. The Finnish scheme showed that by 2020 recipients of UBI felt more financially stable and had fewer mental health issues such as depression and mental strain. The results from Scotland’s Citizens’ Basic Income (CBI) were published in a report in 2020 and concluded that it was “challenging but desirable” and recommended that the Scottish Government implement the project.

The Scottish scheme, which was funded by a £250,000 study, also found that the most significant issue was the lack of cooperation between the DWP and the HMRC, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had refused to support any form of UBI. This year, 80 candidates from six parties in the Scottish Parliament have called for the project to be implemented in Scotland to replace the UK social security.

In 2020, a letter signed by more than 500 MPs, lords and local councillors from all four nations called on Sunak to launch a UBI pilot scheme due to the devastating effects of Covid. The pilot scheme would have paid every adult a basic sum, regardless of their income, with one option to pay the amount of £48 per week. The plea has been snubbed by the ruling government.

But how difficult would it be to implement UBI in the UK? Daniel Susskind, a fellow in economics at Balliol College, Oxford University and author of a World without work, states that: “UBI could be affordable. For instance, handing out £1,000 cash per person per month would cost the government about £66bn a month — a fraction of the nearly £500bn bailout the UK needed to stay afloat during the 2008 financial crisis.”

The pandemic has plunged us into a financial and health crisis. Those without secure and guaranteed incomes have been worst affected, including 5 million self-employed people and 6 million small businesses. The majority of people put on furlough were workers in the retail industry in the lowest pay bracket and according to Statista, 10.3 per cent of employees in the wholesale and retail industry, the fourth largest industry in the UK, are on zero-hour contracts.

In my experience as a freelance journalist working zero-hour contracts in independent cinemas to make ends meet, I was not able to plan for a future: a family, a mortgage and anything. It has been a significant stress on my well-being to not have fixed hours or a guaranteed future. In fact, it was only when I became a property guardian living close enough to work, cycling and not having to pay for public transport, that I was able to start budgeting every month and slowly plan for a life above the poverty line.

The flipside to being a guardian, however, is that you are only given four weeks’ notice, you are not allowed children or pets and regular visits by contractors—a continuous reminder of your short-term licence agreement. And where I was previously just anxious about being one pay cheque away from homelessness, I am now anxious about being one high-rise new build being greenlit for development in the brownfield site I live on.

Global Guardians a property guardian company in the UK proudly state that they have over 28,388 registered guardians, 80 per cent of which are key workers, 3,000 of whom have been property guardians since 2011, when the company first started. So even frontline health workers who risk their lives every day dealing with the pandemic in “secure” contractual jobs resort to living in insecure cheap accommodation.

And just when we have a glimmer of hope with the vaccine rollout and normality is on the horizon, the 2021 budget was unrolled. Torsten Bell Chief Executive of The Resolution Foundation states in a 2021 piece that the post-pandemic approach of the Chancellor “[…] doesn’t recognise the very different impact of the last year where richer households have built up savings, while poorer households have taken on more debt.” And it is these poorer households that have the most to lose when the Chancellor stops the extra £20 increase to Universal Credit in October at a time when unemployment will see a steep increase.

The future of all our mental and physical health in the UK, when we eventually come out this pandemic, is forward planning and a safety net like UBI that considers everyone not just those that can contribute the most due to fortunate economic circumstances.

 

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