Latest Public Sector News

04.01.17

Scottish councils considering universal basic income trials

A scheme to give every citizen a universal basic income (UBI) is set to be piloted by two Scottish councils as they have started to investigate trial schemes this year.

The initiative, in which benefits will be replaced by a single, unconditional payment regardless of earned income, is currently being considered by Glasgow and Fife councils following meetings held late last year.

The councils have not yet announced at which level the basic income will be set but will proceed with the pilots subject to securing sufficient government funding.

“Like a lot of people, I was interested in the idea [of the UBI] but never completely convinced,” said Cllr Matt Kerr, anti-poverty lead on Glasgow City Council.

“But it is also about solidarity: it says that everyone is valued and the government will support you. It changes the relationship between the individual and the state.”

The UBI is a growing idea in Europe, with a pilot currently running in the Netherlands and another set to launch in Finland this year, as it intends to provide people with a basic economic platform on which to build their lives, whether they choose to work, study or help others voluntarily.

Prior to the introduction of the scheme, councils will first arrange a feasibility study to present a strong enough evidence base for a pilot, making a decision on how much people should get and how the scheme will be funded. 

“The funding question is always the big one, and really will depend upon the approach a pilot takes,” says Jamie Cooke, head of the thinktank RSA Scotland, which has been leading nationwide research on the subject.

“It could be funding from particular trusts, it could be individual philanthropic funding, or it could be a redirection of the existing welfare spend.”

The initiative has cross-party support in Scotland with both the ruling SNP government and Labour interested in the UBI, seeing it as a potential solution to improve health and happiness and help workers in an economy of increasingly insecure employment.

Supporters of the UBI believe it would also create a fairer, less complex system than the current mix of welfare benefits, eliminating benefit fraud and reducing administrative costs.

However, opponents of UBI have warned that the scheme might make people unwilling to work and would give public funds to the already well-off.

A referendum on whether or not to introduce UBI in Switzerland was overwhelmingly rejected last year – but a recent poll in the UK found two-thirds of respondents were in favour of the idea.

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