Scottish public sector partners report on feasibility of basic income pilot

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PARTNERS involved in exploring the feasibility of a Citizens Basic Income (CBI) pilot in Scotland have completed the draft final report on their findings.

The report concludes a CBI pilot is desirable, but recognises the significant challenges involved.

Over the past two years, Fife, North Ayrshire, City of Edinburgh and Glasgow City Councils have worked together with NHS Health Scotland and the Improvement Service to explore the feasibility of a Scottish CBI pilot. The concept is based on offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, an unconditional, regular payment.

As well as the resources provided by the partners involved, the Scottish Government provided £250,000 to support the feasibility work in Scotland. Led by the Citizens’ Basic Income Feasibility Study Steering Group, partners have now developed a proposed model for a CBI pilot which would aim to understand the impact of CBI on poverty, child poverty and unemployment, as well as health and financial wellbeing, and experience of the social security system.

Now, the draft final report is being released as the four councils involved, prepare to go through the formal democratic process to discuss and debate the findings, before formally passing to the Scottish Government at the end of the month.

Head of Communities and Neighbourhoods at Fife Council and member of the Steering Group, Paul Vaughan explained the background to the report's publication: "This report presents research into the feasibility of a Citizens’ Basic Income (CBI) pilot in Scotland. Developed by a collaboration of local government and public health, supported by Scottish Government, it comes at a time of unprecedented socioeconomic challenges. Given the stubborn persistence of unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in our society, it's important that we consider innovative solutions.

"We are clear that a pilot of basic income is desirable, and we have described how and what would need to be done for this to happen. However, we also recognise that, at this time, it's not currently feasible to progress to a pilot due to the very complex legislative, technical and delivery challenges associated with the institutional arrangements needed for a pilot.  If these barriers are to be overcome, sustained support across all levels of government (local, Scottish and UK) for the duration of the pilot and evaluation will be needed."

The Steering Group commissioned two significant pieces of research over the course of the study.

The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland researched the potential interactions between a CBI pilot and the current social security arrangements. This work explored how a pilot study of CBI could impact on eligibility for other welfare benefits and associated ‘passported’ benefits.

Economic modelling of the potential impacts of a Scotland-wide CBI was led by the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde in collaboration with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Scotland and Manchester Metropolitan University.

The steering group have now designed a preferred model of CBI for piloting in Scotland which would run over the course of three years.  This would allow sufficient time for the realisation of short and some medium-term outcomes.  A one year preparation period would also be needed.

Two levels of CBI payment are proposed.  The high level is based on the 2018 Minimum Income Standard (MIS) produced by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in order to have a model that is likely to be able to substantially reduce or eradicate poverty.  The second level of payment is more closely aligned with current benefit entitlements and provides an opportunity to test the effect of a CBI which is set at a lower income level.

Concluded Paul: "We hope our findings contribute to the wider discussion on Scottish society, economy and wellbeing, as well as help identify actions which may support ambitions in relation to basic income or social security reform."

A Councillor Group of senior councillors from across the four local authorities provided oversight of the work of the Steering Group.

Co-Leaders of Fife Council Cllrs David Ross and David Alexander welcomed the publishing of the report: "The cross-party support for this feasibility work shows local councillors understand the suffering that vulnerability, inequality and precarious employment have on the lives of individuals, families and children.

"The impact of Covid-19 across our communities has also highlighted the fragility of peoples lives, and the differing ability to respond to changing events. Our work through the pandemic has shown that over 100,000 people (nearly a third of the population) have vulnerabilities that would potentially require extra support. ​

"At this time it cannot be right that such a high proportion of the people that live in our communities cannot be sure that they can have the basics needed for living, or the basis from which to develop and fulfil their ambitions. Universal Basic Income may offer a solution to some of these issues and we look forward to continuing to support the case for the feasibility work ​to help bring fairness across Fife."

Councillor Joe Cullinane, Leader of North Ayrshire Council, said: “The study clearly shows why we should pilot a bold and radical Citizens’ Basic Income.

“It has the real potential to combat poverty and tackle economic insecurity. A pilot would not only assess the impact and possible benefits on people’s lives but it would also test what economic choices individuals make with the greater economic freedom over their relationship with the Labour market that CBI would offer.

“As we rebuild our economy post-Covid, we must consider innovative solutions in recreating the social security safety net and now would seem the ideal time to test Citizens’ Basic Income as we face a global economic recession that will risk pushing more families below the poverty line.”

Glasgow City Council City Treasurer Cllr Ricky Bell said “We are keen to test how a Citizen’s Basic Income would address inequality and mitigate against poverty and deprivation. It is imperative that we consider new policy options, better designed than the current system and more equipped to improve living standards and quality of life.

"The COVID-19 pandemic puts even more focus on the need for change and fuels the desire to find different and more effective responses to the many challenges we now face. We need a secure financial platform that allows space and time for people to build instead of the continuation of an inadequate model of social protection that gives little flexibility. Going forward we must better value the contributions that people make and promote a fairer society and more sustainable existence.

"This report is a significant contribution to this necessary debate and the specific consideration of the feasibility of a CBI pilot scheme in Scotland. It is important that all tiers of government embrace this opportunity and respond positively to the report’s recommendations”.

Councillor Cammy Day, Depute Leader for the City of Edinburgh Council,  said: “The Coronavirus pandemic is resulting in more people than ever struggling to pay their bills and those already on low incomes are suffering the most. Bold new ideas are needed to help people keep their heads above water both now and in a changed future landscape. Citizen’s Basic Income is one such idea and, along with approaches like job guarantee schemes to provide real work and a real living wage, is a policy we should seriously consider as a solution to the challenges people are facing.

"This research makes an invaluable contribution to debate on how we can improve wellbeing and reduce poverty but it needs support from both Scottish and UK Governments to make it a success. Yes there are substantial challenges for introducing a CBI pilot but they are not insurmountable when weighed against the significant potential benefits for those most in need.”