Backing for £200m pilot of citizens income
HOPES that a universal basic income could be a rapid response to the Covid crisis have been dashed by a new study that says it will take three years and £200m just to pilot the idea in Scotland.
Funded by the Scottish Government, the study also warns the experiment will be impossible without Westminster and Holyrood cooperating.
The SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens have recently backed a basic income paid to all as a way of dealing with the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
Today’s report backs a three-year pilot, which would cost at least £186m, to understand the impact of a citizens basic income (CBI) on poverty, unemployment, health and financial wellbeing.
Under the proposal, around 2500 people would be paid a ‘high level’ CBI of around £213 a week for a working age adult, at a cost of £62m
A further 14,600 would be a paid a ‘low level’ based on existing welfare payments, costing £124m.
It recommends participants are chosen at random, with two study areas where the whole community receives a CBI, one the high level, the other the low.
There would be no means testing, but participants would lose access to a range of benefits including jobseekers allowance, tax credits, child benefit and pensions.
The idea was worked up by Fife, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow councils with £250,000 funding from the SNP Government.
As part of the feasibility work, the Child Poverty Action Group researched the potential interactions between a CBI pilot and the current social security arrangements.
The Fraser of Allander institute also modelled the potential impacts on the economy.
Paul Vaughan, Head of Communities and Neighbourhoods at Fife Council, said the feasibility report came at a time “of unprecedented socioeconomic challenges”.
He said: “Given the stubborn persistence of unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in our society, it’s important that we consider innovative solutions.
“We are clear that a pilot of basic income is desirable, and we have described how and what would need to be done for this to happen.
“However, we also recognise that, at this time, it’s not currently feasible to progress to a pilot due to the very complex legislative, technical and delivery challenges associated with the institutional arrangements needed for a pilot.
“If these barriers are to be overcome, sustained support across all levels of government (local, Scottish and UK) for the duration of the pilot and evaluation will be needed.”
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “This feasibility study shows that whatever the challenges to introducing a universal basic income in Scotland, set at an adequate rate, it would have a potentially hugely positive impact on health, wellbeing, poverty and inequality at a time when inequalities are being exposed by the current public health crisis.
“As the world looks for ways to build back better from this global crisis, Scotland is well placed to take a world-leading role in developing new radical approaches that provide a real safety net for the most vulnerable people in society.
“A Universal Basic Income is an idea which has entered the political mainstream, and I look forward to cross-party support for this proposed pilot. It’s an idea whose time has come.”
At FMQs yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said the case for UBI had been “immeasurably strengthened” by the Covid crisis, but Holyrood lacked the powers to introduce it.
She said: “Unfortunately, so many welfare and tax responsibilities are still reserved to Westminster. Therefore, we all have to engage in a real discussion about the abilities of this Parliament, whether in relation to borrowing powers or tax and welfare powers, and about whether we should come together to make the case for additional powers to lie here, so that we are better equipped to deal with the economic challenge that lies ahead.”