Think-tank says every adult in Scotland should receive £5,200 basic income
Four councils have expressed an interest in running pilot universal basic income (UBI) schemes which would see residents handed a fixed amount of cash regardless of their employment status.
Local authorities in Fife, Edinburgh, Glasgow and North Ayrshire have made initial contact with the Scottish Government about exploring the option of trial UBI projects, with £250,000 of Holyrood funding available in 2018/19 and 2019/20.
This week Reform Scotland, an independent non-party think tank, welcomed a move by Holyrood ministers to evaluate the benefit of introducing a system where every citizen is entitled to a minimum income.
It has issued a briefing which sets out a suggested basic income level of £5,200 for every adult.
The proposal to introduce UBI, also known as a basic income guarantee (BIG), would replace the current work-related benefits system.
Reform Scotland argues there remains a lingering disincentive to work - the so-called welfare trap - caused by high levels of marginal tax faced by those moving back into work or increasing their hours.
The think tank makes the case for the work-related benefits system acting as a safety net to provide financial security for those out of work, and a “safety trampoline” to encourage more people to rejoin the workforce or set up new businesses.
The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government committed the administration to formally assessing the potential for introducing such a scheme in Scotland.
Social security minister Angela Constance has written to councils which have expressed an interest in pilots, meaning they can now bid for funds to explore how the programmes would work and how much they would cost.
Siobhan Mathers, a Reform Scotland advisory board member and former Scottish Liberal Democrat policy convener, said: “Basic income is one of those ideas that should appeal right across the political spectrum. Fundamentally, this proposal incentivises people to join the workforce, as well as providing flexibility for those who have caring responsibilities, or who want to volunteer, study, or set up new businesses.
“It is a win-win for individuals and for wider society. The basic income guarantee is an idea for which the time is right.
“We were delighted that our 2016 report sparked such widespread debate across the spectrum and wholly welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to take forward a formal evaluation of the concept.”
SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, who has led a Westminster debate on the issue, welcomed the support of Reform Scotland.
“It comes at a time when the idea is now receiving widespread attention,” he said.
“There is a growing awareness and interest in the idea of a basic income, so any debate we can contribute to is worthwhile.
“We should be hugely proud that Scotland is leading the way in the evolution of this important debate.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman told The Scotsman: “We’re committed to reducing poverty and tackling inequality and are interested in any proposal that would help us achieve this.
“Citizens’ basic income is a bold proposal that is currently untested in an advanced economy.
“Four local authorities are interested in taking forward and testing this policy in Scotland. We have offered funding and support to help them in the initial stages to scope their potential pilots.
“In addition, we will continue to watch international experiments closely as they develop to identify what lessons we can learn.”