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THE NEED FOR FOOD AND UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME.

THE NEED FOR FOOD AND UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME.

COP26 is not the only international conference being organised in Glasgow this year.  

From 18 to 21 August 2021 the Basic Income Earth Network is holding its annual congress.  This will be a virtual congress organised from Glasgow.  

Universal Basic Income is described as “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement”.  The Basic Income Earth Network is an international association interested in the idea of a basic income.  It is a network of academics and activists and it serves as a link between individuals and groups committed to or interested in Basic Income.  It has been holding an annual congress for many years.  Formerly known as the Basic Income European Network, it expanded in scope in 2004.  The European network was active from 1986.

The Law Centre has offered to present a paper on Universal Basic Income and Food Poverty to the BIEN Conference.  This paper is based on research carried out by the University of Glasgow, the Glasgow Community Food Network and the Law Centre.

The need for a basic income has been increasing throughout the UK in the last eight years.  More locally, the Law Centre has been providing a legal clinic at the Trussell Trust Foodbank in Govanhill since 2014.  Between 2011 and the present there has been a huge increase in the need for the foodbank.  In 2011 the foodbank fulfilled 600 vouchers for emergency food, and in 2019/20 the figure was over 11,000.  In that year this one foodbank provided over 100,000 meals for local people in poverty.

From our clinic at the foodbank, the Law Centre has taken on several hundred clients each year.  Around three quarters have problems with social security benefits.  The vast majority of people attending the foodbank cite benefit problems or low income as the main reason for being there.  

The research paper we propose to present includes both practical and theoretical approaches to current problems of food provision and destitution, especially in relation to the pandemic and the resulting lockdown.  

Students from Glasgow University interviewed many of those involved in tackling problems in north and south Glasgow as the lockdown started and developed.  This included staff and volunteers at the Glasgow Community Food Network, workers at the larger foodbanks in Glasgow, and people running food programmes in some of the most active community groups.  They document how these problems were tackled with dedication and urgency.  

Other sections of the paper take a more conceptual approach, looking at the debate between providing universal basic services and providing a reliable basic income; how universal human rights, especially economic rights to food, have not been upheld in the UK in recent years; and, whether recent legislative initiatives, such as the Good Food Nation Bill at the Scottish Parliament might provide a solution.  

All of these issues are highly topical as we move out of lockdown.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights levelled fierce criticism at the UK government at the end of 2018 for its performance on these issues, and there is currently a proposal before the Scottish Government to undertake a substantial pilot on Universal Basic Income.

The BIEN annual congress in Glasgow, is therefore very timely and important.  The congress has a prime opportunity to promote practical measures in the developments of Universal Basic Income.  

Angus McIntosh

May 2021

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