IT’S been described as a radical way of reorganising our welfare system to create a fairer Scotland. Now an NHS Scotland report has claimed Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI) – which would see everyone receive regular cash payments, without a requirement to work – would be the most cost-effective way of saving hundreds of premature deaths every year.

CBI has been pushed forward by grassroots community organisations and backed by Scottish Government advisors such as Harry Burns, Scotland’s former chief medical officer and public health professor.

Last year think tank Reform Scotland suggested the rate should be set at £5200 per adult (£100 a week) and grant funding was given to Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire and Fife councils to work on feasibility studies.

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The NHS report provides further support to claims the plan could reduce inequality. Modelling used in the report suggests over 1000 premature deaths would be prevented over a five-year period.

In its briefing – Income Based Policies in Scotland – NHS Scotland researchers claim that increasing all means-tested benefits by 50% would save the most lives – an estimated 4000 plus over five years – by reducing health inequalities.

They also recommend ensuring higher uptake of the living wage, set at £8.75 per hour, and increasing devolved benefits.

However they concluded that the most cost effective way of reducing early deaths was the introduction of CBI, combined with top-up payments for disabled people.

The National:

Mark Robinson, public health intelligence principle for NHS Scotland, who co-wrote the report, said: “In general, more expensive income policies would result in greater health gains and cost-saving policies would be bad for health.

“However, this was not necessarily the case for health inequalities indicating that the policy design is an important consideration.

“For example, we found that the introduction of a Citizen’s Basic Income with additional payments for disabled individuals was the most cost-effective even though increasing means-tested benefits by 50% was estimated to have the biggest overall effects.”

Recent figures show that life expectancy has stalled in Scotland, falling slightly for the first time in 35 years to 82.9 for women and 79.2 for men.  

Studies have shown that those in deprived areas will die up to 10 years earlier than more affluent counterparts, while in Glasgow excess mortality rates affect people across the city. It is claimed 5000 more people die every year in Scotland than necessary.

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Robinson added: “The roll-out of Universal Credit is predicted to disproportionately reduce income among the poorest households and, although we haven’t modelled it, our findings would suggest that this will be detrimental to population health and health inequalities.”

CBI has been trialled in a number of countries including Finland where in January 2017 a random sample of 2000 unemployed people were paid €560 (£475), with no requirement to seek or accept employment.

Earlier this year it was confirmed that the two-year pilot would not be continued. However it has been claimed the trial could not have been accurately said to trial a “universal” benefit.

David Walsh, public health programme manager for the Glasgow Centre for Population Health said the NHS Scotland work was significant. “Health inequalities in Scotland are wider than anywhere else in Western Europe, he added.  “It’s a desperately unjust situation, and one we need to address as a matter of urgency.”

“These analyses provide important new evidence for the Scottish Government in terms of what policies would be effective.”

The National:

Professor Mike Danson, professor of enterprise policy at Heriot Watt University and trustee of the Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland, agreed CBI had a number of pluses such as addressing the stigma of welfare, and building community solidarity.

Though the scheme has critics, he claimed it would make it easier to change jobs, set up a new business, or leave an abusive relationship without financial barriers.

But he raised concerns that limited devolved powers could hold Scotland back from reaping the full benefits.

“The Scottish Government and local authorities have limited powers over taxation and expenditure so that unless HMRC and DWP are willing to support the pilots administratively then it will be difficult to address many of the aspects and creators of poverty, inequality and ill-health,” he said.

“Only independence will allow the undoubted benefits of basic income and reduced inequality to be realised.”