The immediate shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic were profound, with the government locking down the country and putting together an unprecedented package of economic and financial support.
But even though millions of people received support, millions of others have been excluded from help including artists, the recently self-employed and renters.
Tenants might have been given temporary protection from eviction but they received no financial support in an already unaffordable housing market.
What these excluded millions have experienced is – perhaps some for the first time – what life is like for many of those who live in constant economic insecurity.
If they didn’t understand how stressful it can be wrapped up in a means-tested system, they do now.
If they didn’t grasp just how detrimental to mental health and wellbeing relying on food banks and handouts is, they do now.
If they couldn’t fathom why people have been so angry with this government and its decade of austerity and disillusioned by politics in general, they do now.
If they didn’t recognise how our current levels of welfare are woefully short of where they need to be, they do now.
A much better and fairer solution would have been to make it easier for people who are struggling by bringing in a much simpler “universal basic income” to cover everyone’s needs.
This would mean the provision of a level of secure and direct payment as the only way to ensure that everyone is covered. This is the only way to ensure fairness.
Of course, we mustn’t lose focus on the fact that economic insecurity is a day-to-day reality for many who have long been deliberately targeted by this government even before the pandemic.
However, imagine a world where instead of bailing out the banks, supporting corporations with tax cuts and 10 years of austerity that has disproportionately fallen on the poorest, we had had a basic income to support our needs.
We would have built up a greater level of individual economic resilience and all our lives would be all the better for it.
We can’t change the past but as we build back better, we must ensure that we lay the foundations of the new normal by first addressing people’s economic needs.
A guaranteed income floor, providing a reliable platform for all is what we need, rather than a conditional welfare system that lets people fall through the gaps in the safety net.
Brighton and Hove City Council has now voted to ask government to give proper consideration to a trial of basic income – so that we can pull together the evidence that will demonstrate how a universal basic income works.
Thousands have signed a petition in support of universal basic income locally – supported not least by the energetic Basic Income South East group.
And Lewes District Council is among a growing number of other local authorities that back the idea.
It has always been the time for a basic income but perhaps now, more than ever before, as we find ways to cope with a second national lockdown, the public might fully understand why.
Economic security is a right we all deserve so let’s keep up the fight for universalism and a basic income – and a life truly free from the depths of poverty.
Martin Osborne is a Green councillor and a core founder of Basic Income South East. He represents Hollingdean and Stanmer on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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