SCOTLAND could be the first part of the British Isles to run a universal basic income pilot after the scheme won huge support from participants in an anti-poverty initiative in a local council area.
Work to develop a trial in Fife is to be discussed this Friday at a meeting between councillors, Scottish Government civil servants and members of the Scottish Basic Income Network which campaigns for the introduction of the system.
Under UBI, or citizen’s income, welfare benefits such as child and tax credits and state pensions are replaced with an unconditional flat-rate payment regardless of whether the recipient is in work or not.
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Any money a person earns above the payment is taxed with either a single flat rate or a number of progressive taxation rates.
A pilot is currently running in Holland, while Finland is to launch one next year.
Jamie Cooke, head of the Royal Society of Arts Scotland, which has carried out research on the scheme, said there had been a number of discussions between the Scottish Basic Income Network and Fife Council.
He will be among those attending the meeting with Fife Council, which he envisaged would lead to a pilot scheme in some towns and villages in the area.
“This is an exciting opportunity for Scotland to look at something quite radical and put the country at the forefront of work in a policy which is getting growing levels of support across Europe,” he said.
“People working in the field in Finland and Holland are now looking at Scotland as a place where this can be developed.”
Cooke said he hoped the UK Government, which runs the welfare benefit system, would co-operate with a Scottish pilot. Paul Vaughan, head of community and corporate development at Fife Council, said having a universal basic income was a recommendation made in a report from the Fairer Fife Commission, a partnership initiative between public sector organisations in the area to combat poverty.
“We want to draw up a plan we can give to councillors about how we see the pilot going and why we want to do it in Fife,” he said.
“We will use Friday’s meeting as a stepping stone to discuss seeking co-operation with the UK and Scottish Governments and the various departments that would need to be involved.
“The view of the Scottish Government is that they have some of the authority, but not all of it, to push the pilot forward.”
Supporters of the universal basic income says it has the potential to create a fairer and less complex welfare system as well as build a more family-friendly society, giving a safety net to people out of work, allowing people to have an income while caring for relatives or while retraining for a new career.
They also believe it would save on administration costs involved in running a highly complex welfare system and prevent benefit fraud.
Figures proposed by the Royal College of Arts in its research on the policy suggest, on the basis of 2012-13 prices, most adults would receive £3,692 a year, while the over 65s would get £7,420. Payments to parents for children would be between £2,925 and £4,290, depending on the child’s age and if there is more than one child in a family.
Inverclyde SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, who has called for the UK Government to consider the policy, backed the work being done.
He said: “If we genuinely want to create a more effective system of state support, we need to be prepared to address the difficult questions.
“It is argued that the benefits of introducing a basic income include – reducing poverty and boosting employment, as well as providing a safety net from which no citizen will be excluded.
“As someone that believes in an independent Scotland I want the people of Scotland to define and design what that country should be. I believe a universal basic income is a logical policy to pursue and that it’s time may well have come.”
A conference to launch the Citizen’s Basic Income Network is to be held this Saturday at the Pearce Institute in Glasgow.
Cowan, Cooke and Professor Guy Standing, who has helped to develop pilots in other parts of the world, will be among the speakers.