Basic Income, under various monikers, has attracted a growing level of global attention in recent years. At times referred to as Universal Basic Income or Citizen’s Basic Income, it represents an innovative approach to many pressing issues in contemporary society. In September 2017, the Scottish Government committed £250,000 to allow four local authorities to explore the feasibility of Basic Income pilots. In theory, a Basic Income would replace many current benefits and tax allowances with an unconditional, non-withdrawable payment to each citizen. This foundational income would not be means tested, allowing all to rely on a stable, partial income.
Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland—advocates for a Basic Income in Scotland—argue that the provision of a Basic Income for all citizens would represent “a major step forward for equality, fairness, and a human right to be free from poverty”. It has the potential for wide ranging benefits for both individuals and wider society; simplifying the current welfare system, addressing persistent poverty and job insecurity, alleviating mental health and wellbeing issues often exacerbated by financial pressures, and easing the burden on individuals who wish to pursue creative and entrepreneurial opportunities, to name but a few.
There are, however, many concerns yet to be addressed. Would a Basic Income guarantee that those most in need would not be worse off? What impacts could a Basic Income have on the economy, or on health, or on housing? Is a Basic Income even feasible or affordable? Recent efforts to pilot a Basic Income in North America and Europe have revealed difficulties likely to be faced by any potential Scottish pilot. In Canada, the Ontario pilot—initiated by the Liberal provincial government—has now been cancelled by the new conservative government, amidst claims that the pilot was failing (assertions refuted by experts). The ending of Finland’s pilot scheme has also been widely reported, often cited as evidence of the failure of Basic Income. Yet some have claimed that the experiment was “doomed from the start”, implementing a badly planned, lazy model which ignored the advice of leading academics.
Investigating the challenges and benefits of implementing a Basic Income in Scotland forms the basis for our Citizen’s Basic Income programme, part of the Scotland 2030 group of programmes which seek to complement and support the Scotland’s Futures Forum’s current work. Led by Professor Mike Danson (Heriot-Watt) and Professor Christine Cooper (Edinburgh), the programme brings together advocates and sceptics to interrogate Basic Income in the context of human rights and equality, employment and entrepreneurship, housing, and care. Ultimately, it seeks to support and inform future policy and practice at this crucial time for Basic Income in Scotland. You can find out more about the upcoming programme workshops, and also briefing papers, here.