Scotland to lead the way on universal basic income



Another element in the SNP’s Programme for Government announced by the First minister is a commitment to fund pilot studies into implementing a basic income in Scotland. See this explanation from Motherboard:

‘A basic income for citizens is an old idea that’s gaining renewed traction as governments prepare for a future when robots are doing much of today’s menial work. The idea is to give everybody a living wage (or the equivalent of that in tax credits, or some other scheme) simply for being alive. Previous experiments have suggested it can work: A Canadian trial in the 1970s showed that supplying people with a basic income obliterated poverty and caused high school completion rates to shoot upwards. Finland launched a basic income trial in 2017, and Canada is gearing up to launch its own trial in Ontario. Hawaii is also looking into the idea.’

In the UK, the research group Compass has already carried out a very thorough study and make a very powerful case for the idea, in principle:

‘There are very strong arguments in favour of a UBI. Such a scheme would overcome many of the problems with the existing and increasingly complex, punitive and unpopular system of social security, which in multiple ways has become a weak tool for social protection but a strong tool for waste and the humiliation of those on the very lowest incomes. A UBI would provide a much more secure income base in an age of deepening economic and social insecurity and unpredictable work patterns. It would offer much greater financial independence and freedom of choice for individuals between work and leisure, education and caring while recognizing the huge value of unpaid and voluntary work.’

However, Compass recognises the complexity of implementing a scheme in the context of the UK’s current benefit and taxation system and conclude:

One lesson from these simulations and other studies is that, in the context of existing tax and benefit arrangements, it is not possible to design a scheme that is revenue neutral, pays a decent sum and withdraws most means-tested benefits without significant numbers of losers. This is because the current benefits system, partly because of its complexity and reliance on means testing, is able to pay large sums to some groups. While the current system is buckling under the pressure of its own complexity, a simpler, flat-rate UBI scheme cannot compensate for the withdrawal of both personal tax allowance and most means-tested benefits without becoming expensive. However, a modified scheme that paid a lower rate and retained existing means-tested benefits would be viable, though it would keep some of the complexities of the existing system. Modified scheme 2, as described above, would have very few losers among the poorest 40%. The scheme would be progressive, reduce inequality and lead to a significant cut in child poverty. In particular, there would be fewer households on means-tested benefits, and those still on them would receive less help in this way. It would have a net cost over and above the integrated changes in tax and NICs of some £8bn a year.

So, the Compass research makes a strong case for the idea in principle but also makes it clear that implementation would require one or more transitional periods to prevent, for example, traumatic consequences for some families with, typically, large numbers of children. This argues for experimental or pilot studies to find ways of dealing with the complexities in transferring from the current system to transitional basic income schemes so the Scottish Government’s commitment to fund pilot studies is sensible and, once more, evidence of competence in government so obviously lacking in London.


3 thoughts on “Scotland to lead the way on universal basic income

  1. Alasdair Macdonald September 7, 2017 / 12:45 pm

    There is, within this idea, scope for more constructive engagement by Scottish Labour. Prior to the Council elections earlier this year, Councillor Matt Kerr of GCC had been exploring this idea. Although Labour lost control of the Council, Councillor Kerr retained his seat and continues to work on the citizen’s income idea. He and Patrick Harvie have addressed meetings about the topic.

    On a personal level, Councillor Kerr is a decent and open-minded individual. It would be good if we could get from Labour a more constructive engagement in policy making.

    I am not holding my breath after I saw a photograph of the launch of Mr Sarwar’s campaign, with the candidate surrounded by such as Pauline McNeill, Johan Lamont, Jackie Baillie, James Kelly – gloom descended! The problem is that amongst the MSPs Labour mostly comprises these conservative, tribal time-servers. If Mr Sarwar’s only aim is to ‘fight the SNP’, then is there any hope that his cronies would support such a constructive measure as citizen’s income. There might be some amongst their councillors and MPs, but in Holyrood it is baleful dead wood.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Contrary September 8, 2017 / 8:06 am

    Ah yes, universal basic income, I read the document you posted for me John, it was very informative – I’m sure research has moved on since 2012, but here it is again for others

    Click to access The-Case-for-Universalism.pdf

    I am enthusiastic to see how the pilot project works, though it seems to me you’d have to have a more holistic approach, as set out above, a transitional period, but eventually a wholesale change of taxation etc. So how it will fit into our current overly-complex and inadequate system who knows – I assume they have a way of projecting how it would really work with a revised system.

    Trouble with councillors that belong to a political party, there can be fine people working with integrity, but if they are members of an unpleasant party, they have to expect to be tarred with the same brush? I thought the point of political parties was that we didn’t need to consider individuals, but could rely on the party’s policies and doctrine to make our choices, which means we have to judge a representative based on what group they belong to. Just saying, I am not convinced by any consideration that includes ‘IF labour,,,’ – if they haven’t changed it by now, they likely never will, and any councillors need to choose what group they belong to? I am probably being a bit brutal here, I don’t think there should be ANY big political parties! It just reduces choice and diversity to my mind, very restrictive.


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