Nobody is entitled to a free ride through life (where has that idea come from?)
Where did your idea that people are not entitled a free ride come from? The are both equally arbitrary.
a fundamental aspect of being part of a society is that you should make some kind of contribution to that society.
I definitely agree, but does contribution to society = work? What about artistic endeavors? Most would agree these have great value to society at large, but they are very difficult to value at an individual level.
thought needs to be given to perhaps reducing the number of hours in a working week thus creating more jobs.
This is just a form of indirect taxation. You are taking work away from those who already have it, thus impacting their earning ability. This is certainly not more efficient than direct taxation and the only benefit is to satisfy your arbitrary desire for everyone to be employed.
Or perhaps get people to do some of the work that is now mechanised.
Where is the benefit to society in this? If the work is already getting done, it is getting done. Why would people feel better about themselves by having a job that is completely unnecessary? I'm pretty sure that the people who feel the worst about themselves are not the unemployed, but those who know their hard work is completely unappreciated.
Things are appreciated more if you have to earn them rather than have them handed to you on a plate.
Agreed, but you are not really talking about earning anything. You are talking about make-work being created, that has no value to anyone, just to put a certain veneer over a social program.
I think things are actually much simpler than the argument you are making. What is more beneficial to society: to have a high base mark of livability for all, even at the expense those capable of high achievement, or to sacrifice this base mark to enable high achievers to reach their ultimate potential. I would claim that the fundamental proposition of society is wholly for the former and wholly against the latter. So, we can certainly argue about whether it is more efficient to provide a universal salary or just a universal set of services; but it is silly to argue that people somehow need to earn their membership in society by meeting a specific definition of working