Feasibility Study: Is there institutional support for a basic income pilot?

This is the final instalment in our feasibility study series. So far we have looked at what a feasibility study is, whether political support is possible, and how we can create public support. The final piece of the puzzle is gaining support from the institutions that would allow the implementation of a pilot.

Dr Benjamin Simmons, Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland Trustee @vforfive

It is unlikely that Scotland currently possesses the ability to fund a basic income without consent from, amongst others, the DWP, HMRC and the Treasury. Westminster has debated basic income and rejected the idea, instead favouring their own idea of Universal Credit, which is currently setting the world alight much in the way an arsonist might. Ultimately, winning support from these institutions will depend on the affordability of running a pilot.

We’ve covered some key information about pilot schemes previously, but the maths is simple:

Cost per pilot = payment per person x number of people x length of pilot.

The feasibility study will need to put a number against each of those variables. There will be competing priorities between the different councils. Potential areas of disagreement are the target demographic for a basic income, the level of basic income, the duration of the pilot, and the impacts to be measured. For example, Glasgow may want to look at the impact of basic income on the long-term unemployed only whereas Fife might want to see what happens when you give a whole town basic income, regardless of their personal circumstances. There may even be demand for multiple different pilots to compare and contrast. One council may want to give people unconditional income equivalent to unemployment benefit only, while another may decide to set it equivalent to 21 hours of minimum wage work.

Political realities will also influence matters. It is entirely plausible that a pilot could be pushed to launch before a general election in 2020, or the length of a pilot curbed to finish before an election in 2025. Political parties may seek to smuggle in other policy objectives into a basic income pilot or underfund a pilot without considering that they are reducing the value for money. Finland received 20m euros despite asking for upwards of 40m, a major challenge when it comes to collecting enough data for conclusive analysis.

The affordability of a basic income pilot will be a major headline in the media but, ultimately, the affordability of a social program is always subjective. If we didn’t have the NHS and we were asking for it now the same arguments would be made against it by the same people arguing against basic income. If a feasible scheme can be designed, and demonstrated through a pilot to be effective, we will still need to fight tooth and nail to secure support for it in the tabloids. Introducing basic income is likely to depend on a referendum, such as in Switzerland, and if recent referenda have taught us anything, it is that honesty and integrity are cast too easily aside when it comes to campaigning on major issues.

If basic income is interesting to you and you would like to help us raise awareness we are always looking for volunteers. You can find out about our volunteering opportunities here on our website.


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