MY first summer job was as a waiter in the Machrie Hotel on Islay. I was paid the princely sum of 96p per hour, a rate set by the Wages Board for the hotel and catering industry from which 9p per hour could be deducted for meals.

The world of work has changed a lot since then. Wages boards are a thing of the past.  More people are self-employed. More work for agencies or on zero-hour contracts. Many small businesses which would previously been sole traders or partnerships have, instead, become limited companies.

A great deal of this change has been spurred on through Government encouragement.  The inability of governments to respond to the changes that they have created in recent decades means that our politicians now need to be bold and creative in how we respond.  If we fail to do so then we risk leaving behind many of the hardest-working and most productive people in our communities. We also risk making the task of rebuilding our economy harder than it needs to be.

That is why on Monday I urged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look seriously at the idea of a Universal Basic Income.  His response was dismissive but the growing calls in support of the idea are not going to go away.

Thousands of families will face financial hardship in this crisis due to the current gaps in Government support.  The small building firm in Shetland that I have been trying to help in recent weeks illustrates the problem well. It is owned by the two men who started it and runs as a limited company.  The owners take most of their income though dividends. Their four employees have been furloughed and their position ought to be secure.  As things stand, however, there is no adequate help for the two owners of the business. The purpose of the furlough scheme is to protect jobs now for when productive work restarts.  Unless we find a way of helping these business owners, and thousands like them, there will be no business to which the employees can return.

A few weeks ago I may not have been quite as dismissive of a universal basic income as the Chancellor has proven but I would certainly have been sceptical of its merits.  Like most Scots I was taught by my parents that hard work would win reward, which would allow me to get on in life and then to pay back. It is how I have tried to live my life and how I, in turn, have raised my children.  The idea of money coming from the government to every citizen, with nothing expected in return, sits ill with that approach to life. Then again, the idea that government can close businesses, stop social and sporting gatherings and curtail our civil liberties in a quite drastic manner sits no more easily.  We have all had to accept the necessary price of fighting this war against Covid-19.  Yes, a universal basic income risks giving money to people who do not need it.  That, however, is something that is easily remedied through the tax system.  If you think about it, we already have a form of universal basic income in the state pension.  Anyone receiving that who gets more from an occupational or personal pension pays income tax on anything above the tax threshold.  This also offers us an opportunity to gather evidence on which to base our decisions about the future of our economy and our society when this is all over. Income inequality has grown in this country and now poses a risk to social cohesion.  A Universal Basic Income may be part of the answer to that. I frankly remain to be convinced but I have an open mind and I would like to see the evidence. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, put it thus: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Our Government may not like the truth with which they are faced but they offer no alternative.  If they continue in their failure to acknowledge reality, then they risk failing some of the people who are most deserving of their help.  Alistair Carmichael is a Liberal Democrat MP and former Secretary of State for Scotland