Work on Scottish 'minimum income' begins as poll finds £20 benefit cut would leave people unable to cope

The mechanics of introducing a “minimum income guarantee” that would reduce poverty, inequality and insecurity is to be thrashed out by a group of MSPs and experts, with a government consultation launched to gather public views on how the system could be designed.

Chaired by social justice secretary Shona Robison and Russell Gunson, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Scotland, the cross-party group will look at proposals for the “innovative, bold and radical” policy, which could ensure everyone has “enough money to live a dignified, healthy and financially secure life”.

The group’s launch comes as a new poll by Save the Children found 47 per cent of people on Universal Credit – equivalent to nearly three million claimants – don’t think they’ll be able to live on a household budget that is £20 per week lower, when planned government cuts to the benefit are implemented in October.

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A further 18 per cent say they don’t know if they’ll be able to manage, leaving just a third on Universal Credit confident they’ll be able to make ends meet while single parents are the most concerned, with over half (52 per cent) saying they don’t think they can live on £20 less per week.

A minimum income guarantee was pledged by the SNP in the May elections.

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A minimum income guarantee, which was in a number of political party manifestos at the Holyrood election, would be aimed at the poorest, including those on Universal Credit, and would likely be paid via a variety of sources, including tax reliefs, social security benefits and services in kind, like childcare and transport.

Ms Robison said: “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.

"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.

“We recognise this is a cross-government responsibility and we are focused on working together to push forward poverty reduction in Scotland.

“We must look at ways of maximising household incomes from work and social security, as well as reducing costs on essentials including services such as childcare.”

She added: “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 comprise two-subgroups, a strategy group of MSPs, chaired by Ms Robison, and an expert group, including those with lived experience of poverty, chaired by Mr Gunson.

Members of each of the political parties in the Scottish Parliament will be part of the strategy group, including Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy and Conservative MSP Miles Briggs.

The expert group will also include, among others, Chris Birt of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Fiona Collie of Carers Scotland and Mubin Haq of the Standard Life Foundation.

Mr Gunson, whose organisation published a report earlier this year on how a future Minimum Income Guarantee could look, said it could “transform the lives of people across Scotland, setting an income floor in Scotland beneath which no one would fall”.

He said: “To build a fairer and stronger Scotland following Covid-19 we will need to think big ideas in Scotland and think just as big on how to implement them.

“The MIG Steering Group is a great step, bringing cross-party representatives and experts from across Scotland together to shape a Minimum Income Guarantee and make progress on delivering it.”

Scottish Labour’s representative on the group, Pam Duncan-Glancy said bold action was needed to address poverty, inequality and insecure work.

“A minimum income guarantee would ensure everyone has enough money to live on and we need to do all we can as fast as we can to do it here in Scotland,” she said.

“I’m pleased to join others from across the political spectrum and civil society and be part of making that happen.

“It will need a bold, cross-cutting approach that promotes good and secure work, keeps living costs down, and has a social security system that is adequate and available when people need it. We’ll be listening to experts and civil society and pushing for the government to go hard and fast on all of this.

“However, there is much we could be doing in Scotland using the powers we have right now, starting with doubling the Scottish Child Payment.

“We should also be working to improve access to and the adequacy of other benefits in Scotland including disability assistance and carers allowance. I look forward to getting stuck in and ensuring that the government do as much as they can here for people in Scotland, as quickly as they can.”

Meanwhile the Save the Children poll on Universal Credit found 61 per cent of respondents said it would be harder to afford food after the £20 cut, nearly half said it would be harder to cover essential bills, 43 per cent said it would be harder to pay for clothing while 37 per cent said it would be more difficult to find money for books and toys.

Dan Paskins, director of UK Impact at Save the Children, said: “The £20 increase is a lifeline for families. People we work with tell us that they’re relying on it to buy essentials like food and clothing for themselves and their children. Without it, hundreds of thousands more people will be pushed into poverty.

“That’s why we’re calling on the UK Government to abandon its plans to cut Universal Credit this autumn. Across political divides, a growing number of voices agree that our social security net has got to be strong enough to catch people when they need it most.”

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