Scotland has been leading the debate on basic income in the UK.
A basic income is a regular payment that goes to everyone, regardless of personal circumstances. The amount paid, how it is funded and how it interacts with existing social security depends on the model. The underlying principle is to provide everyone with enough money to meet their basic needs.
In 2018 a study into the feasibility of a Scottish basic income pilot commenced. This work has been led by four local authorities: Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire and Fife and was funded by Scottish Government. The final report is now available.
It tells us that pilots are a desirable next step, but that there are barriers at Westminster. It also states that “a robust political coalition of support” is required to remove these barriers and that “public support is essential to secure strategic backing and engagement from political groups”.
The Basic Income Conversation and Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland are asking people who hope to see a Scottish basic income to sign this pledge of support. This will demonstrate the public support and help us encourage politicians to work collaboratively and strategically to remove the barriers to a Scottish basic income.
The first step on the journey towards the Scottish feasibility study was made in Fife. The Fairer Fife Commission was formed to create a plan for tackling poverty and inequality. Consultation with communities and civil society led to the recommendation of a basic income pilot in Fife. Three other local authorities joined this call and Scottish Government allocated funds to the two-year study looking at a Scottish pilot.
The whole project has required collaborative working from across the four local authorities and the supporting bodies, including the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland (formerly NHS Health Scotland). This is an exemplary approach to policy making that looks to the future rather than firefighting.
In the context of work on basic income, this ground-breaking research firmly positions Scotland as a world leader on the policy. The work over the last two years has produced important research that strengthens everyone’s understanding of basic income. This includes a scoping review of basic income evidence, which outlines a framework for considering data collected on various interventions and its relevance to assessing the impacts of a basic income, as well the detailed consideration of piloting a basic income in ethical and practical terms.
A basic income is universal and unconditional whereas an experiment requires a well-defined sample and controlled conditions, which makes experimental design highly complex.
The feasibility study focused on basic income as a route to eliminating poverty in Scotland. The final report suggests that experiments are a desirable next step and necessary to assessing how effective a basic income is for alleviating poverty. Without data from a full basic income intervention or well designed experiment we will not be able to form a conclusion one way or another (despite assertions to the contrary).
The final report outlines experimental models and details how these have been designed to assess the impact of a basic income robustly and ethically. It includes economic modelling from the Fraser of Allander Institute. It also evaluates the feasibility of a basic income using a variety of factors including politics, institutional involvement and affordability.
The report highlights the main barrier to a Scottish experiment as the political context, with the powers required to implement an experiment sitting with Westminster. The barriers highlighted would apply to any area of the UK wanting to do a robust pilot of basic income. The removal of these barriers provides a clear next step towards a basic income in the UK.
Throughout this work there has been significant public support for a basic income. Political support has peaked with the Coronavirus crisis. A few weeks ago, 124 MPs and Peers, from 7 political parties across 4 nations, wrote to the Chancellor in support of a basic income response measure. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has strengthened her support for the policy. “My position on that has gone from having a keen interest in exploring it to what I now describe as active support for it”, she said.
She pressed the Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie to support further devolution of fiscal powers, “So I hope on some of this, and I mean this sincerely, Willie Rennie, particularly on things like UBI will not end here but will also join with me in willing us to have the means to deliver those ends because that’s going to be really important in the weeks and months to come.”
There is cross party support for basic income in the Scottish Parliament.
This research emerged from public support and was driven forward by local government. Now, with the final report available, the public and all local authorities have an opportunity to voice their support for a basis income pilot. If you want any help with this process, please sign the pledge of support. This backing from all interested parties will be crucial to overcoming the political barriers and ensuring Scotland remains a pioneering nation in the global basic income debate.
More progress on basic income in Scotland will translate into more progress across the UK. Most crucially though, a basic income would represent a meaningful social renewal for the people who need it most.
Cleo Goodman is Co-Founder of Basic Income Conversation and Director Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland