12 September 2021

PCS calls for 21st Century Beveridge report to aid Covid recovery

PCS has called for a Beveridge Report for the 21st Century which can pave the way for the recovery from the Covid pandemic and beyond.

PCS deputy president Martin Cavanagh spoke in a TUC Congress debate today on support for the cultural sector. He said that the pandemic has presented us with hugely difficult and complex challenges that require bold and radical solutions. But he said that if Universal Basic Income was, as suggested in composite motion 5, to be considered part of the solution “to address the grotesque levels of poverty and inequality, much more work needs to be done on UBI and its potential effects.”

“PCS represents around 50,000 DWP staff members on the frontline delivering social security policy and we’ve long advocated for radical reform of the system,” he said.

“It’s our view that the social security system is the best tool for lifting people out of poverty. Many of the stated aims of UBI can be achieved through radical reform, which takes into account modern living and working habits.”

UBI is a guaranteed fixed minimum monthly income received from government.

Stark inequalities

He highlighted that the Covid pandemic has exposed just how precariously millions of people in this country live and work.

“The safety net that once supported people through the ups and downs of life has been decimated by this and previous governments: over £30 billion has been cut from the social security system in a little over a decade,” he said.

“The pandemic has meant that more people than ever have had to rely on a system that, despite the hard work of DWP staff, simply isn’t fit for purpose.

“A Beveridge report for the 21st century can pave the way for the recovery from the Covid pandemic and beyond.”

The motion, proposed by Lynda Rooke of Equity, stated that while issues of low pay and job insecurity are complex, UBI could improve the lives of those working in areas most exposed to precarious working, low wages or automation including the cultural and creative sector. But that there are however serious reservations based on its potential to drive down wages, increase precariousness, and undermine unions’ bargaining power.

Loraine Monk of Artists’ Union England said the post-pandemic recovery called for radical options, including UBI.

Impact of the pandemic

The motion, which was carried, also highlighted the impact of the pandemic on the creative industries which accounted for more than two million jobs across the UK and contributed around £112 billion to the economy. Despite its success, the sector has a disproportionate level of precarious employment, long working hours, low pay, harassment, and discrimination.

Speakers also described how the pandemic has exposed the fragile nature of the arts and culture sector in the UK, with a disproportionate impact on already disadvantaged groups, and, crucially, the significant sums made available by the government to “rescue” the sector from collapse do not address its underlying structural problems.

Vicky Johnson of the FDA said there that the culture sector, and in particular galleries and museums, was in crisis.

“The impact of the pandemic on the sector is stark. It is a poorly paid sector and one of short-term contracts so you can’t build a career in the sector,” she said.

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