Economic adviser backs Scottish Government’s basic income plans

Harry Burns believes a basic income will 'transform life' in deprived parts of Scotland. File picture: Robert Perry
Harry Burns believes a basic income will 'transform life' in deprived parts of Scotland. File picture: Robert Perry
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An economic adviser to the Scottish Government has backed plans for a citizen’s basic income, saying it will “transform life” in deprived parts of Scotland.

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The Government is working with four councils to fund research into the feasibility of the scheme which provides a flat rate payment to all adult citizens.

Harry Burns, a member of the Scottish Government’s council of economic advisers and a former chief medical officer, said the payments would boost educational achievement, cut unemployment and reduce crime.

Writing in the Sunday Herald, he said: “The Scottish Government’s programme for 2017-18 indicates a wish to explore the impact of a citizen’s basic income scheme in Scotland.

“The papers describe such a scheme as ‘untested’.

“In fact, it has been tested and it works.

“While it will cost to set up, ultimately it will deliver considerable benefits to society and the economy in particular as young people become more likely to succeed at school, get into employment and avoid going to jail.

“Inequality in life expectancy in Scotland continues to widen as it has done over the past five or six decades.

“Inevitably, some of the money raised through taxation will go to the NHS to deal with the health consequences of income inequality.

“It is time we also started to deal with the causes, and a basic income policy will transform life in deprived parts of Scotland.”

Mr Burns pointed to towns in North America which introduced a citizen’s basic income for a period in the 1970s, saying predictions the payments would result in people stopping work or spending the money on alcohol were proved wrong.

He said the number of people being admitted to hospital fell, high school graduations increased and the rate of low birth-weight babies dropped, adding: “These improvements were achieved by ensuring all citizens had a basic level of income, providing security and allowing them to feel more in control of their lives.”

He said: “If you tax the rich and give the money to the poor everyone benefits, including the rich.”

Mr Burns’ view puts him at odds with another member of the council of economic advisers, Joseph Stiglitz, who said previously money should be targeted at those most in need, due to fiscal constraints.

The four areas examining the citizen’s income in Scotland are Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to reducing the deeply ingrained inequalities that exist across Scotland. At its root this is an issue of income inequality, which is why we are shifting the emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes.

“The citizen’s basic income is a bold proposal that is currently untested in an advanced economy. Four local authorities have been identified to test this policy in Scotland and we have offered funding and support, which will be available this year, to help them scope their potential pilots.”

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