Calls for a universal basic income have grown louder after shocking new figures revealed coronavirus has contributed to a huge rise in unemployment benefit claims across Tayside and Fife in a single month.
More than 29,000 Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants and out-of-work Universal Credit claimants were recorded across the region last month, compared with just 18,490 in March.
The 57% increase across the area since the impact of the pandemic set in is dwarfed by some constituencies such as Perth and North Perthshire, and North East Fife, which have seen claimant levels soar by as much as 87% and 82% respectively.
The figures, confirmed via the House of Commons Library, should be the catalyst for a wider debate about the income available to struggling individuals and families up and down the UK, it has been claimed.
SNP MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, Douglas Chapman’s constituency showed an increase of 1,320 claimants between the ages of 16 and 64 in his constituency from March to April – up to 3,525 from 2,205 – while those aged between aged between 18 and 24-years-old claiming out-of-work benefits increased by 200.
He said: “These numbers are concerning but are a symptom of the difficult times we are living in during the coronavirus pandemic, which is pushing people into uncharted territory.
“This is also a result of many people falling through the cracks of the UK Government’s business and self-employed support schemes and is forcing people to apply for Universal Credit.
“The figures in Dunfermline and West Fife are not as high as other areas in Fife, but that is hardly compensation for those trying to keep their family, house and home together every day of the week during this crisis.
“The impact this is having on young people, who were already struggling to find work, is also highlighted, especially at this time of year when even part time tourist-related jobs would have been available but that job market has simply dried up.
“This is causing people a lot of stress but it doesn’t need to be like this; the UK Government could have introduced a Universal Basic Income to make sure no one is left behind by the coronavirus pandemic and suffers as a result of something they had no control over.
“It is not too late for the UK Government to introduce a Universal Basic Income which would make sure everyone has a guaranteed income stream during this time.
“The scheme has just been introduced in Spain and it is time for Westminster to follow suit.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed support for UBI earlier this month and said the idea should be “quite close to the top of the list” in terms of issues which required a rethink.
“The experience of the virus and the economic consequences of that have actually made me much, much more strongly of the view that it is an idea that’s time has come,” she said.
While Ms Sturgeon said she would be seeking “constructive discussion” with Westminster about the issue, Alok Sharma, the UK Government’s business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, appears to have already ruled it out.
“I think what’s very important in the way that we provide support, particularly more widely in the welfare system, is that we target it at people, and universal basic income is an issue that’s being tested in other countries and hasn’t been taken forward.”
Jobseekers Allowance claimants and out-of-work Universal Credit claimants
March 20 April 20
Angus 1,770 2,755
Dundee East 1,845 2,890
Dundee West 2,850 4,090
Dunfermline and West Fife 2,205 3,525
Glenrothes 2,575 3,815
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 3,035 4,530
North East Fife 1,000 1,820
Ochil and South Perthshire 1,780 2,920
Perth and North Perthshire 1,430 2,670
TOTAL: 18,490 29,015
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