The introduction of a universal basic income (UBI) and freeing Scotland from a “crazy” system of welfare which generates poverty is one of the great opportunities for independence, according to a leading campaigner.
By: Judith Duffy
Dr Simon Duffy, founder and director of The Centre for Welfare Reform, said political momentum was building internationally behind the idea of government guaranteeing a regular minimum income to every citizen and it was no longer considered “weird”.
Scotland has looked at the feasibility of piloting Citizen’s Basic Income, concluding it would be desirable but the powers to run such a scheme lie with Westminster.
The SNP’s manifesto for the election this year pledged to work towards providing a minimum income guarantee so that “everyone in Scotland has enough money to live a dignified life”.
In May, Wales announced it would conduct an experiment to test the concept and success of UBI.
Duffy, who will speak at an event on UBI on Thursday organised by Voices for Scotland, said: “Obviously Scotland has already showed great leadership in this field, but there is also a lot going on internationally.
“Scotland is not alone, this is not very weird now. Mark Drakeford has committed to a pilot of basic income in Wales and all the political parties now in Northern Ireland either back basic income in full or the piloting of basic income.
“It is quite exciting to see all of the places suddenly lift their head up and go ‘we can imagine a better future, with all the wealth we have we don’t need to leave people in poverty, we do not need to create this false sense of abject insecurity’.”
Duffy said the pandemic was a major factor in sparking interest in UBI, as well as longer-term issues such as vanishing job security.
“It reveals how fundamentally insecure people’s basic economic position is, how most of us are only a few weeks from poverty,” he said.
“We just blithely carry on assuming everything is going to stay the same. Of course these kind of moments reveal that actually, very big shocks are possible.”
He added: “The longer term discussions which have ramped up over the last five to 10 years have been around automation, but in particular digitalisation. What’s really under threat – and I think this is why basic income is going to succeed – is because it is going to threaten middle-class jobs, white collar jobs.”
In August, international experts will virtually attend the Basic Income Earth Network’s annual congress which is being organised from Glasgow.
Duffy said introducing UBI would be a “huge opportunity” for an independent Scotland.
He said: “You end up with the opportunity to say this is what we are going to make sure everyone gets – effectively the government will put this into your bank account and when you earn over and above that you will be taxed at a fair rate. That is the essence of what basic income delivers.
“The Scottish Government is right to say it is very difficult to do it at the moment, other than in pilots, but we shouldn’t confuse the trickiness in the current settlement with what’s possible with independence or a radically different kind of Union.
“Freeing Scotland from this kind of crazy Whitehall system which has been generating poverty for decades is one of the great opportunities for independence.”