Following a recent report on the Scottish basic income experiment feasibility study, Cleo Goodman, Director at Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland writes on the assessment and how local authorities can support its implementation.
A basic income is a regular payment that goes to everyone, regardless of personal circumstances. The amount paid, how it is funded and how it interacts with existing social security depends on the model. The underlying principle is to provide everyone with enough money to meet their basic needs.
Scotland has been leading the debate on basic income in the UK. The final report on the Scottish basic income experiment feasibility study was published today, 11 June 2020. This work has been led by four local authorities (Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire and Fife) and was funded by Scottish Government.
The first step on the journey towards this work was made in Fife. The Fairer Fife Commission was formed to create a plan for tackling poverty and inequality. Consultation with communities and civil society led to the recommendation of a basic income pilot in Fife. Three other local authorities joined this call and Scottish Government allocated funds to the two-year study looking at a Scottish pilot.
The whole project has required collaborative working from across the four local authorities and the supporting bodies, including Scottish Government and what was NHS Health Scotland now Public Health Scotland. In my view, this is a pioneering and heartening approach to policy design that looks to Scotland’s long-term future. The council ability to input into the final report has been disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis so the four local authorities will assess this report before it is submitted to Scottish Government later this month.
In the context of work on basic income, this ground-breaking research firmly positions Scotland as a world leader on the policy. The work over the last two years has produced important research that strengthens everyone’s understanding of basic income. This includes this scoping review of basic income evidence which outlines a framework for considering data collected on various interventions and its relevance to assessing the impacts of a basic income. As well the detailed consideration of piloting a basic income in ethical and practical terms. A basic income is universal and unconditional whereas an experiment requires a well-defined sample and controlled conditions, this makes experimental design highly complex.
The feasibility study focused on basic income as a route to eliminating poverty in Scotland. The final report suggests that experiments are a desirable next step and necessary to assess how effective a basic income is for alleviating poverty. Without data from a full basic income intervention or well-designed experiment, we will not be able to form a conclusion one way or another (despite some assertions to the contrary).
The final report outlines experimental models and details how these have been designed to assess the impact of a basic income robustly and ethically. It includes economic modelling from the Fraser of Allander Institute. It also evaluates the feasibility of a basic income using a variety of factors including politics, institutional involvement and affordability. The report highlights the main barrier to a Scottish experiment is the political context, with the powers required to implement an experiment sitting with Westminster. The barriers highlighted would apply to any area of the UK wanting to do a robust pilot of basic income. The removal of these barriers provides a clear next step towards a basic income in the UK.
Throughout this work, there has been significant public support for a basic income. Political support has peaked with the Covid-19 crisis. A few weeks ago, 124 MPs and Peers, from 7 political parties across 4 nations, wrote to the Chancellor in support of a basic income response measure. The First Minister has strengthened her support for the policy, “My position on that has gone from having a keen interest in exploring it to what I now describe as active support for it.” And yesterday she pressed the Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie to on basic income, urging him to “join with me in willing us to have the means to deliver those ends because that’s going to be really important in the weeks and months to come.” There is cross-party support for basic income in Scottish Parliament.
This research emerged from public support and was driven forward by local government. Now, with the final report available, the public and all local authorities have an opportunity to voice their support for a basic income pilot. If you want any help with this process please reach out to me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Backing from all interested parties will be crucial to overcoming the political barriers and ensuring Scotland remains a pioneering nation in the global basic income debate. More progress on basic income in Scotland will translate into more progress across the UK. Most crucially though, a basic income would represent a meaningful Scottish social renewal for the people who need it most.