First it was the ‘portfolio career’, now it’s the ‘gig economy’. If, reading about the latest socio-economic trends, you have come across the term recently that’s because it’s not only musicians who are discovering the possibility of making a living by moving from job to job, working on short-term contracts for numerous employers, rather than in permanent positions at a single workplace.

Indeed, for some forced into a world of zero-hours contracts and emergency self-employment, it’s more a necessity than a possibility. While this way of working has long been a way of life for musicians and creative artists, the lack of financial security and even social stigma that it entails means it has not been an aspiration for the population generally.

Whatever the reasons for the emergence of a gig economy – the rate at which technology is fracturing the employment market by making increasing types of job redundant is an important one – the phenomenon helps explain why some are starting to argue for a rethink in the way we structure and run our tax and benefits system. This, they say, is becoming increasingly punitive on certain people: the low paid, for example, or those whose skills do not currently meet the gaps in the employment market; those looking for work in oversubscribed sectors; carers; and of course, those working on irregular hours.

One solution could help transform their lives, including those of musicians: the universal basic income (UBI). That, at least, is what social reformers of the Royal Society of Arts call it in their new report Creative citizen, creative state: the principled and pragmatic case for a Universal Basic Income. Put simply, the UBI is a guaranteed weekly, non-means-tested stipend given to every citizen whatever his or her employment status that replaces all but the most needs-based state benefits (eg housing or disability benefits).

Crucially, the amount paid would be set at high enough a level to serve its purpose as a basic income but not so high that it provides a disincentive to work – the RSA report suggests £3,692 per year (£71 a week), jumping to £7,420 for over-65s and with a range of lower amounts for up to 24-year-olds. Depending on the exact way the system is implemented, the report calculates this will cost the nation an additional £9.8-16.4bn. But this is not an unprecedented amount, it notes, if you consider that in 2015/16 George Osborne increased the personal tax allowance, reduced the rate of corporation tax and cut fuel duties to the combined tune of £19.5bn. And as all income above the UBI would be taxed, in the RSA proposals, all earners contribute to the exchequer, not just those earning more than the personal allowance (currently £10,800).

And of course, that does not take into account the social benefits. For the unemployed, it removes the need for signing-on and a coercive, demoralising regime of sanctioning. It removes the need to reapply for benefits when redundancy strikes again. People would be free to attend training courses without jeopardising their benefit payment through unavailability for work. There are incentives for those in work too, such as for those wanting to reduce their hours in search of a better work-life balance, or to retrain or develop other interests, or because of care responsibilities.

For musicians the benefits are clear. Peripatetic teachers, freelance players, composers, conductors are all among those with quiet periods of the year to negotiate (one of the worst coming at exactly the time that self-assessment tax payments are due). A guaranteed few quid would be a welcome security net. But the UBI would do more than address that. How many chamber groups never get off the ground because its members can’t afford to find the time to rehearse? How many creative projects never make it to performance because the financial risks are too off-putting? How many musicians are forced by either the Jobcentre or penury into other employment, and find themselves – unable to practise, unable to accept engagements – neglecting the thing they love and putting their musical career at risk?

The truth is that for musicians, for any artist, having to work is not the chief obstacle: it’s not being able to work. The universal basic income promises to lower that obstacle in the most socially responsible way – just one reason why the classical music industry should be joining the debate, lobbying for its introduction.

Download the report at http://tinyurl.com/zerrcet