OVER the past decade or so, much of the work I’ve done – including my current full-time job – has involved dealing with people on the margins of society, whose lives are in a mess.

None of these people are ever wealthy. Few of them are even moderately affluent. The overwhelming majority have one thing in common: they are afflicted by malignant poverty. They’ve lived with it for most of their lives, and so have their parents before them. And so too will many of their children, and their children’s children.

I use the word malignant for two reasons. Firstly, because of the damage poverty inflicts on human lives. It causes pain, dysfunction, misery, distress, social isolation and premature death. And secondly, because it is not self-inflicted. Few people choose to become poor. Those who suffer poverty are victims of circumstances over which they have no control.

I’ve experienced serious poverty first hand, as a child growing up in the Gorbals and Castlemilk, so I do know what I’m talking about. One death in a family can change everything, sometimes for generations. So too can a redundancy, or a marital separation, or a serious illness.

Not everyone living in poverty faces a lifetime sentence. I’m an example of one of those who eventually escaped. But many, many people remain trapped in a vicious cycle of debt and despair. They become vulnerable to mental and physical illness, some drift into criminality or drug abuse or alcohol abuse. Many folk, with little incentive to do otherwise, eat cheap rubbish and seek solace in tobacco, booze or gambling. Their lives are consumed by the stress of trying to get by in a world obsessed by money, gadgets and material “success”. So many people literally lose the will to live.

Scotland is ahead of the rest of the UK in facing up to the gravity of the problem. Last week, MSPs voted unanimously, across all parties, to become the only part of the UK to have statutory targets to cut child poverty. By 2030, Scotland aims to halve the proportion of children living in poverty from 20 per cent to 10 per cent.

So far, so good – and yet another illustration of the more progressive political climate in Scotland compared to south of the Border. Two years ago, the Tory Government scrapped the 2010 Westminster Child Poverty Act, which had also been carried with cross-party support. That set the same target, for child poverty to be reduced to 20 per cent, but by 2020 rather than 2030.

The UK Government, despite the entire battery of taxation powers at its disposal, and the huge concentrations of wealth around London and the south east, had clearly calculated that the target would be never be met. So it ditched the target.

With more limited economic powers, the targets set by Holyrood are quite moderate. By 2030, with full independence, I’d hope that target can be reduced from 10 per cent to zero per cent. And that working age and pensioner poverty will also be made history. But I suspect that will require a revolutionary new approach to how we manage the resources of society.

In a presentation to the recent Scottish Independence Convention, Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam brilliantly crystallised some of my own instincts on the economics of poverty. The essence of her argument is that we need to fundamentally change the way we measure and manage progress, which moves the focus away from GDP and economic growth to measuring what really matters.

Referring to an example cited by the American economist Mark Anielski, she pointed out that the archetypal GDP hero is “a chain smoking, terminal cancer patient going through an expensive divorce who crashes his car on the way to his job as an arms dealer because of texting while eating a take-away hamburger”. All of these activities drive up GDP. So does crime. So does war. So do hurricanes and other natural disasters.

And, bizarrely, so does poverty, because it generates a huge economy all of its own. We employ armies of social workers, health professionals, civil servants, police officers, doctors, lawyers, drugs and alcohol counsellors, debt agencies, food bank administrators, and many more whose livelihoods depend, at least in part, on the existence of poverty.

And in a further devastating twist, she points out that our obsession with economic growth and driving GDP ever upward is the principal cause of poverty in the first place. All of our big political parties – including the SNP and Corbyn’s Labour Party – have tunnel vision when it comes to growth.

The whole premise of current mainstream politics is that we need first to create wealth by growing the economy. Then we take a chunk back in taxation. And then we use these revenues to mop up the mess caused by poverty and deal with the fall-out of other destructive impacts of frenetic growth, such as climate change, the destruction of nature and the plundering of finite resources.

AND all along, the rich get richer and the poor stay poor, because the inherent structure of our economic system means that wealth always cascades up rather than trickles down.

The idea of a Universal Basic Income, recently supported in principle by the First Minister, could be an important starting point on the journey to a different way of thinking about poverty and wealth.

Last week’s revelations about the scale of tax avoidance brought home for me the stark contrast between how we treat the rich and how we deal with the poor. The Paradise Papers only came to light because of either a leak or hack of 13 million files exposing eight trillion dollars stashed away in tax havens by the global elites.

Governments were apparently unaware of their existence. Yet the same governments, not least here in the UK, go to extreme lengths to scrutinise those living in poverty. They are forced to fill in labyrinthine forms, attend in-depth interviews, undergo humiliating examinations of their personal affairs to prove they are poor. They are stripped of dignity and self-esteem from the moment they try to claim any benefits. I’m glad that our Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, has made putting respect and dignity into the system her top priority.

A Citizen’s Basic Income has the potential to change the whole culture – to one that enshrines a decent minimum standard of living as a right. And to one that views the people who obsessively accumulate unimaginable wealth as the people who are a drain on the Earth’s resources. I suspect it could only become fully workable nationwide with the full economic and fiscal powers of independence.

In the meantime, I would suggest that the SNP change the name of its Growth Commission to the “Progress Commission”, invite Katherine Trebeck and other experts to participate and bring a different perspective, and broaden its remit beyond the narrow goal of increasing GDP.