NICOLA Sturgeon is being urged to push ahead with a “world leading” universal basic income pilot which could see thousands of people in Scotland receive unconditional weekly payments for a three year period whether they are working or not.

The proposal is expected to be a key recommendation in a Scottish Government-funded feasibility study published today, which was undertaken jointly by local authorities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire in collaboration with NHS Scotland.

An interim report by the councils last year suggested that two groups totalling 17,000 people could take part in the trial, but over the weekend campaigners said the impact of coronavirus on the public purse may see the size of the pilot reduced.

The measure would see those participating provided with a minimum payment which would be enough to meet their basic needs in addition to income from work.

The interim report suggested one group could be put on a higher payment rate with adults of working age receiving £214 a week, while a second would receive £73 a week in order to compare the benefits to each of the two sets of recipients.

It was estimated the cost to the public purse of such a pilot would be £76m over three years for a sample size of 2500 at the high level and £203m for a sample size of 14,600 at the lower level. This would give a total of nearly £280 million over three years for the study.

A principle informing the feasibility study was that participants should not experience financial detriment. It had not been decided whether taking part in the pilot would be mandatory or voluntary for people living in the selected areas.

Last month the First Minister said that the fallout of the pandemic meant that the “time has come” for a universal basic income and she planned to have talks with the UK Government. The scheme would require support from Westminster, which has control of much of the welfare system in Scotland, and UK ministers have so far been reluctant to commit to this.

Last year’s interim report indicated that a full-scale pilot would be recommended, with a view to assessing whether this could deliver a fairer welfare system.

The SNP’s Social Justice Commission has been looking into a universal basic income to provide a “safety net” for Scots both under the current constitutional arrangements and with independence. The policy has been backed for many years by the Scottish Greens.

Alison Johnstone, the Scottish Greens social security spokeswoman, said: “As the world looks for ways to build back better from this global crisis, Scotland is well placed to take a world-leading role in developing new radical approaches that provide a real safety net for the most vulnerable people in society.”