The case for significantly raising the state pension is, surely, a compelling one – Euan McColm

Politicians could act swiftly to alleviate pressure on the elderly

There can’t be many of us who don’t worry about money, these days.

Rising inflation, horrendously high energy bills, and a property market effectively closed to all but the wealthiest are just some of the toxins that have created a contagion of financial anxiety. If you can get though a single day without wondering how you’ll pay this bill or fund that plan then congratulations, you’re doing brilliantly well.

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And so it’s hardly surprising that the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) has gained traction in recent years. The notion that the government might ensure every family – regardless of circumstances – received a sum of money each month that would guarantee both dignity and opportunity is hugely appealing. Which of us wouldn’t instantly see a significant improvement in our lives if we could bank on, say, an extra 20 grand a year?

The Scottish Government has been considering a version of such a scheme. A steering group is looking at the possibility of a minimum income guarantee, which would top of the wages of anyone earning less than £25,500-a-year.

It’s been announced that the think tank Autonomy plans a two-year pilot of a UBI in England. Under the scheme – which is yet to be funded – people in Jarrow in the north-east and East Finchley in London would be paid a flat rate of £1600-a-month, no matter their earnings, and the impact on their lives studied. Who would bet against any participant becoming happier during these 24 months?

Naturally, this idea has its critics. From some on the right, we hear the predictable suggestion it would disincentivise work and from the left that, since it's not redistributive, it would unfairly benefit the already wealthy.

These are arguments those already worrying about when they’ll have to turn the heating on again are fascinated by, I’m sure.

It strikes me this discussion throws light not just on the pressures many workers face but on one sector of society already struggling more than most – the retired.

The full state pension is now £10,600 – little more than half the proposed UBI to be piloted in England. For many of us, retirement is not some fantasy of garden-shed pottering and regular winter-cruising but a fear-inducing prospect. Those of us now just about getting by face tougher times ahead in old age. I’m certain that my friends and I, many of us in our early 50s, are not unique in having discus sed how we might make retirement work. How will those of us who rent properties afford to stay in the communities where we’ve settled when – if – we stop working? How will we cover the basics?

Underpinning the argument in favour of a UBI is the idea that people should be able to live with dignity, that life need not – should not – be a constant, crippling struggle. This is a powerful motor to drive the current discussion.

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But while politicians debate the merits or otherwise of ensuring every worker is paid enough to maintain a certain standard of living, they could act swiftly to alleviate pressure on the elderly.

The case for a universal basic income might not yet have been fully made but the case for significantly raising the state pension is, surely, a compelling one.



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