Scotland may have to scale back flagship Universal Basic Income scheme

Scotland may have to scale back flagship plans to pilot a Universal Basic Income scheme as the fallout of coronavirus takes its toll, campaigners have warned.

It comes ahead of publication this week of a Scottish Government backed study into the feasibility of running a pilot which was undertaken by councils.

This is expected to support the launch of a scheme in Scotland and is likely to receive a favourable response from government, with Nicola Sturgeon having recently endorsed the policy.

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The measure would see all citizens provided with a minimum payment which would be enough to meet their basic needs, whether they are working or not, with many benefits scrapped. It has been suggested previously this could be about £5,000 a year.

An interim report last year suggested that two groups of up to 17,000 people could take part in a pilot over three years, but it is feared the impact of coronavirus on the public purse could see this reduced.

Jamie Cooke, of the RSA Scotland think tank, which backs the scheme, says the pandemic has shifted thinking since the work got under way.

“I think it will be hard to get the size of experiment they are talking about,” he said.

“To try and get that off the ground in a post-Covid period with the constitutional debates and elections and everything else coming up, I think is pretty unlikely.”

But he called on political leaders to press ahead with “smaller scale experiments” to test delivery of the scheme and build a public consensus.

Sturgeon said last month that the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic meant that the “time has come” for Universal Basic Income and she planned to have talks with the UK government on the issue. The scheme would require support from Westminster which has control of much of the welfare system in Scotland and UK ministers have so far been reluctant to commit to this.

The report is being published by Basic Income Scotland, which comprises councils in Fife, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow, in collaboration with NHS Scotland. An interim report last year indicated that a full-scale pilot would be recommended, with a view to assessing whether this could deliver a fairer welfare system.

The SNP’s Social Justice Commission has been looking into a Universal Basic Income to prove a “safety net” for Scots.

Shona Robison, chair of the Commission said: “It’s the right time for an open and progressive debate to help create a fairer Scotland where everyone is recognised and rewarded for the contribution they make

Scottish Green social security spokesperson Alison Johnstone said: “The crisis we are facing has revealed the UK’s safety net is full of holes, and shows that a Universal Basic Income could be a central plank in a just recovery.”

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