A NEW briefing paper by Basic Income Conversation has drawn attention to the many barriers that stand in the way of Scotland moving forward with a basic income pilot.
The paper – authored by the group’s co-founder Cleo Goodman – analysed the findings of June’s feasibility study, evaluating the obstacles to be overcome to realise the pilot.
“The Coronavirus crisis has piqued support, both popular and political, and it feels as though we’re closer than we have ever been to a basic income,” the paper says.
“But there is still work to be done.”
Last month, following two years of research, the Citizens’ Basic Income Feasibility Study Steering Group concluded that a Scottish basic income pilot was “desirable”, but that “substantive and complex legislative and delivery barriers” persist.
Perhaps the most obvious of these barriers are linked to Scotland’s constitutional status.
The Scottish Government provided £250,000 to support the study, and Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly voiced support, but the devolved parliament is unlikely to be able to proceed without UK Government backing.
In May, the First Minister told MSPs: “My position on [basic income] has gone from having a keen interest in exploring it to what I now describe as active support for it,” but added “we cannot implement it unilaterally in Scotland”.
Due to Westminster’s control over certain aspects of Scottish welfare policy, the steering group says a pilot would require the cooperation of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Yet, as Basic Income Conversation notes, “there is currently no commitment to do so”.
This support would be especially important to ensure those in a basic income pilot would not experience any financial detriment as a result of taking part, something crucial to its design.
But a lack of cooperation from the DWP and HMRC could leave those involved ineligible for other benefits and support.
Basic Income Conversation analysed other barriers to the study in terms of its strategic, psychological and behavioural feasibility.
Firstly, strategic feasibility “refers to the coalition of support required to secure a basic income”.
To strengthen this political cooperation, Basic Income Conversation is asking supporters to urge MPs to sign the Early Day Motion on Scotland’s basic income pilot; petition their MSPs to join the Cross Party Group on Basic Income; and suggest their councillors file a motion in support of basic income.
In terms of psychological feasibility, the steering group notes: “The legitimacy of any policy implementation, and by extension the success of a policy pilot, requires a broad level of acceptance within the general public for whom the policy applies.”
While the report states that there is currently “net approval” for basic income in the UK, it recommends publicising the pilot’s aims and assessing acceptance prior to implementation.
To support this, Basic Income Conversation recommends supporters sign its pledge in favour of a Scottish basic income to show your approval and spread awareness.
In addition, behavioural feasibility refers to whether existing evidence points to a Scottish basic income pilot achieving its aims – namely reducing poverty and inequality.
The feasibility study was rooted in the five Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) principles of basic income: periodic, cash payment, unconditional, individual and universal.
Basic income pilots have already taken place the world over from Finland to South Korea, Canada to Kenya.
Yet, as Basic Income Conversation says, our ability to predict how a Scottish pilot would play out is limited by the fact that “there are no full basic incomes that can be analysed and there are no interventions that fulfil all the criteria of a basic income.”
Despite the many strong opinions for and against a basic income in Scotland, Basic Income Conversation says, only a pilot can provide the evidence needed to take the next step.
This poses a fundamental question for the study – can a basic income pilot be properly evaluated in order to determine what happens next?
Basic Income Conversation’s answer is yes.
The feasibility study has provided a detailed breakdown of how to include a representative sample of the population and measure success across a range of outcomes while maintaining BIEN’s five principles.
If approved, the pilot would be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, which is why Basic Income Conversation says the study has provided “ground-breaking, world leading new insight”.
Yet due to its uniqueness, it says, it is only by implementing the pilot that we can get a real understanding of basic income’s impact on poverty and inequality in Scotland.
Finally, a barrier to the pilot that is consistently levied against basic income is its financial feasibility.
Giving a minimum of 2500 people no-strings-attached payments of up to £213.59 per week over three years may seem like fantasy.
Yet the cost of the pilot has been forecast at £186.4 million, which Basic Income Conversation deems affordable.
To put this in context, in 2017/18, £19.5 billion was spent on social security in Scotland.
If evidence from other studies proves applicable to Scotland, basic income could represent a radical reform of the social security system, improving citizens’ wellbeing, raising educational outcomes, lowering crime rates and reducing poverty and inequality.
Of course, only time will tell if these outcomes and affordability align in the Scottish context, but as steering group member Paul Vaughan said: “Given the stubborn persistence of unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in our society, it’s important that we consider innovative solutions.”
Basic Income Conversation’s analysis confirms a pilot as the best method to determine long-term policy in Scotland and points to most barriers being surmountable.
That is except for the institutional barriers – if the UK Government continues to refuse to cooperate, the pilot will be difficult to get off the ground.
But all hope is not lost – by building coalitions across the UK, boosting public awareness and reshaping how financial feasibility is approached, these barriers can surely be overcome.
Catherine Anderson, Basic Income Network Scotland volunteer
Image credit: “scotland_sun” by Elaine Faith is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.