I AGREE wholeheartedly with Shona Craven in her article in Friday’s National (Mhairi Black is right – a basic minimum income is a non-starter). I suppose that means I also agree with Mhairi Black, which does not surprise me. I find Mhairi’s articles frequently hit the nail right on the head.

The first point I would raise is, just how much will the amount paid out be? I noted from your previous article in which the suggestion by Nicola Sturgeon was mentioned that the Department of Work and Pensions will be involved in discussions. Can one assume from this that pensions may be included in the benefit payouts to become covered by this suggested scheme? Assuming this might be the case, I’ll take some figures relevant to my own pension and compare this to the sort of figures (relevant to Finland’s scheme) that Shona quoted.

At present my pension is £111.99 per week. When the DWP write to me each year, they tell me that they know this will not be enough to live on and so they will top it up to an amount I need to live on. I am entitled to a top-up of £47.36, giving a total of £159.35. Don’t forget, it’s the DWP that says you need at least this amount to live on. So, if you multiply it by 52 and then divide it by 12 you get a figure of £690.52 per calendar month. That is considerably more than the figure of £514 per month that Shona quotes as being paid in Finland.

I don’t actually receive that amount as I have a very small independent annuity of £61.71 per month and the DWP deduct that figure from the “pensions credit” element of what I am paid. But even the lower figure that I do receive of £145.11 per week, or £622.81 per calendar month, is still well above the figure mentioned in the article. I do realise that the figures presently quoted are only examples, but if the final figure ends up so far below the figure the DWP considers necessary to live on, then it seems likely that a large number of folk are going to be condemned to extreme poverty.

There are too many indefinites for a scheme such as this to work. What will happen to housing benefits and council tax rebates? There are people who pay more than this figure in rent alone. Therefore rent and council tax are figures that must be part of the Universal Basic Income if people are to be required to pay them from their UBI. But if that happens and people get a part-time job, what provision will there be for some of that extra income to go towards their rent and council tax? After all, it says this figure will be paid whether or not people will be working.

Then there’s heating and lighting. Different houses have different heating needs, so folk would pay a bit more or a bit less for this depending on the size of their house. How can you take these differences into account if the payment is to be “universal”? “Universal” means everybody gets the same, but in just these few paragraphs it becomes obvious that everyone would have different expenses and needs.

Final point: could we afford such a system? We are presently experiencing a situation where an ever growing percentage of the population of Scotland is getting older, with the extra expense in the form of pension that this will involve. We are already looking for younger immigrants to swell the working population and contribute to the pension pot for others. But we can’t always count on more and more workers appearing to contribute more and more money. That’s the principle that “pyramid selling” is based on, and with pyramid selling you eventually run out of people coming in at the bottom tier. This leads to lots of folk losing lots of money and that’s why pyramid selling is illegal.

Whichever way it’s done, if ever, it’s going to be very complicated and I don’t envy whoever gets the job of trying to implement it.

Charlie Kerr