Scotland unveils basic income plans as COP26-style conference kicks off

Glasgow is currently hosting the world's biggest universal basic income conference as plans to introduce a version in Scotland move forward. Image: Artur Kraft / Unsplash

Scottish ministers have launched a consultation on creating a minimum income guarantee just as Glasgow hosts the world’s biggest universal basic income conference

By: Liam Geraghty

Scotland has launched plans to create a form of universal basic income in the country to reduce poverty and inequality just a day before Glasgow is set to host a global conference on the progressive idea.

Shona Robison, social justice secretary for Scotland, co-chaired the first meeting of a steering group to assess how ministers can create a minimum income guarantee on Tuesday. The Scottish government has also created a consultation on plans to bring in the policy, which Robison described as “revolutionary in our fight against poverty”.

The plan, promised in the Scottish National Party manifesto ahead of May’s election, comes as Glasgow hosts the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress. The conference brings together 1,000 academics and activists from across the globe to discuss how distributing regular payments to everyone can create a minimum income and reduce poverty.

“We are committed to progressing the delivery of a minimum income guarantee, which could be revolutionary in our fight against poverty. It is a clear demonstration of our ambition and aspiration for Scotland,” said Robison.

“The policy is innovative, bold and radical. It reflects our clear desire to do everything with our limited powers to deliver the change needed, using every lever at our disposal. Eradicating child poverty and building a fairer, more equal country must be a national mission, not just for the government, but our parliament and broader society.

“Introducing a minimum income guarantee will not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but there is a willingness to deliver on our ambition.”

The steering group will be co-chaired by Russell Gunson, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in Scotland, which published a report earlier this year on how a minimum guaranteed income might look in the country.

Building on a previous feasibility study, the IPPR report recommended providing different income levels depending on individual and household characteristics which would take into account needs such as the extra costs of living with disability.

Experts will examine the different ways universal basic income projects have been introduced around the world at the 20th Basic Income Earth Network Congress, running online from August 18-21. 

Cleo Goodman, co-chair of the BIEN Congress 2021 Local Organising Committee, told The Big Issue that while the event is a “much more grassroots” affair than COP26 – also set to be held in Glasgow later this year – the ideas discussed at the conference are also vital.

“I think it was crunch time a long time ago with this,” said Goodman. “I think a basic income makes practical sense, not just ethical sense, I think it would have been a better move than 10 years of austerity, certainly.

“But it would also have been a better move than piecemeal solutions to income support during the pandemic, which left people behind.

“The whole point of it is that it’s universal, that it’s comprehensive, that it is genuinely a floor that people can’t fall beneath. So, you know, it was always too late when we weren’t able to build that.”

Goodman started campaign group Basic Income Conversation after being inspired by a talk at TEDx Glasgow in 2018. She hopes that the ideas discussed at the conference will prove just as inspirational in a world recovering from the impact of Covid-19.

Both Scotland and Wales have now committed to developing universal basic income pilots. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced Wales would create a trial after his own May re-election and will speak at the conference on its final day.

But so far there has been no such appetite from Westminster leaders

Goodman added: “Fundamentally, it’s just about making sure that no one’s life is hindered by not having an income at all.

“Currently, if you don’t have a job, if you don’t qualify for certain benefits, or if either of those things don’t meet a certain level which guarantees you a certain standard of living, you are hindered. The idea of a basic income is to make sure that is guaranteed to everyone.”

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