Universal basic income: Radical approach may be piloted in Scotland

Fife Council will debate whether or not to implement an unconditional payment for all citizens.

A universal basic income is being considered by Fife Council after the idea was floated by a councillor in Glasgow and debated at Holyrood.

The non-means tested payment would go to every citizen regardless of status and would be enough to cover essential living costs.

Proponents say a trial of the radical approach to welfare could be in place in Fife within three years.

A cross-party group of councillors has met basic income advocates and held discussions with both Holyrood and the UK Government.


What is a universal basic income?

A basic income is a fixed amount of money paid to citizens which never decreases or disappears no matter the circumstances of that citizen.

For example, unemployed, low wage and rich people of the same age-bracket (i.e. not a child or a pensioner) would all receive the same basic level of state support.

Children, adults, and pensioners would be provided with different levels of basic income. The objective of a basic income is to alleviate poverty caused by low wages and the benefits trap.


Why is it gaining popularity?

Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens an unconditional monthly sum in a social experiment that will be watched around the world amid gathering interest in the idea of a universal basic income.

Under the two-year, nationwide pilot scheme, which began on January 1 this year, 2000 unemployed Finns aged 25 to 58 will receive a guaranteed sum of €560 (£475).

The income will replace their existing social benefits and will be paid even if they find work.

Basic income experiments are also due to take place this year in several cities in the Netherlands including Utrecht, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Wageningen and Groningen.

It has been suggested as a means to mitigate the effects of inequality and to decrease the complexity of unemployment and other benefits.

Some economists have also claimed the basic income could be effective as jobs decrease due to increased mechanisation of the workplace.


What do the experts say?

Dr Simon Duffy, of the Institute of Welfare Reform, wrote: “Basic income is best thought of as the integration and simplification of all the current systems of income security into one universal system.

“It is this universality which makes it such an essential reform. In time we will see basic income as equivalent to the NHS or to free education – an essential part of a civilised society.

“For too long income security has been treated as if it were just some peculiar system that exists only for ‘the poor’.

“But this is doubly deceitful. We all need income security, we cannot live on air, and it is important that we treat income security as an essential human need.”

Critics say it is unworkable and prohibitively expensive.

Former Social Market Foundation director Emran Mian, writing in the Independent, said: “The trouble with the universal basic income is that the utopia it promises is a deceit.

“Replacing our complex system of welfare benefits with a single equal payment for everyone means one of two things: either the universal basic income is too low to replace the additional benefits people with particular needs receive, for example, those with disabilities or children; or, if it’s high enough not to leave those people out of pocket, then it costs much more than the present system we have.”

Who could it help?

The advancement of ideas relating to universal benefit have often paralleled criticism of the overly complicated and allegedly punitive benefits system in the UK.

John Sullivan was an acoustic engineer for 24 years but was forced to give up two years ago due to illness. He was living on just £76 a week before his full employment benefit was sorted out.

Mr Sullivan said the current benefits system is broken and a replacement is required.

He said: “This could happen to anyone, it doesn’t matter what the illness is or the circumstances are.

“I got introduced to the intricacies of the benefits system, which I would like to say feels like a barrier to getting back to work as opposed to an assistance.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t do what it’s meant to do for some people but for the majority of people it doesn’t.”

He added: “A universal basic income would make it possible to be able to live like most people do, and get along and do things for a bit of enjoyment and fun with all the essentials taken care of.”

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