Exploring the feasibility of a Citizens’ Basic Income Pilot in Scotland

Posted on 15 Mar 2021

Citizens’ Basic Income (CBI) – sometimes called universal basic income – is a bold and radical policy idea which has seen a rapid increase in public interest not only Scotland and the UK, but worldwide, as a potential solution to reducing poverty. Levels of poverty and inequality are stubbornly high in some of our communities and we must consider innovative solutions if we want to create a fairer society and economy centred on wellbeing.

Essentially the general concept of a CBI is based on offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, an unconditional, regular payment.

For over two years a unique partnership of four Local Authorities (City of Edinburgh Council, Fife Council, Glasgow City Council and North Ayrshire Council) and Public Health Scotland, supported by the Scottish Government and the Improvement Service, have worked to explore the feasibility of a CBI pilot in Scotland. We launched our ground-breaking Final Report in June 2020 which outlines some of the most detailed and comprehensive research into a CBI pilot available anywhere in the UK.

We believe that a robust and well-designed pilot would provide an invaluable opportunity to test and evaluate the effects of CBI within the Scottish context, and particularly the impacts that a CBI would have on poverty.

Partners developed a proposed model for a CBI pilot which would aim to understand the impact of CBI on poverty, child poverty and unemployment, as well as health and financial wellbeing, and experience of the social security system.

Our preferred model for piloting a CBI pilot in Scotland is based on 5 key principles: universal (paid to all); unconditional (no requirement to search for work); individual (not paid to households, like Universal Credit); periodic (paid at regular intervals); and made as a cash payment. We propose two payment levels for piloting – a lower payment in line with current benefit provision so it would be possible to test the impact of the removal of conditionality, and a higher payment aligned to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard. A pilot would run for three years, with a one year preparatory period. We commissioned research exploring potential benefit interaction and also economic modelling of the potential impacts of a Scotland-wide CBI to inform our work.

Our research concludes that, whilst it is desirable to pilot a CBI in Scotland, it is currently not feasible due to substantial challenges associated with institutional arrangements. In short, no one level of government can pilot a CBI without substantive and complex legislative, technical and delivery changes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed high levels of economic insecurity and whilst our research was not focused specifically on the economic and social impact of Covid-19 and CBI as a potential solution to this, it is clear that piloting new approaches is vital if we are to tackle future societal challenges including the Climate Emergency.

We hope the findings of our feasibility study can contribute to wider discussions on Scottish society and a wellbeing economy.

Julie McLachlan, Senior Manager – Economic Policy, North Ayrshire Council and Member of Citizens’ Basic Income Feasibility Study Steering Group