Why are Basic Income payments uniform?

Why are Basic Income payments uniform?

CONVERSATIONS about Basic Income have been springing up across Scotland in recent months following the publication of the feasibility study in June.

These debates are vital if Scotland is to progress with a Basic Income pilot, and to support these conversations, we felt it important to go back to basics and unpack what Basic Income really means. In the fourth instalment of our blog series on Basic Income FAQs, Basic Income Network Scotland volunteer, Catherine Anderson, answers questions about why a Basic Income is uniform, and only varies according to age. 

Basic Income Network Scotland defines Basic Income as: “A periodic, uniform (except by age), unconditional cash payment delivered to all on an individual basis, without any behavioural requirements.”

Similarly, the feasibility study steering group defined Basic Income using the five Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) principles: periodic, cash payment, unconditional, individual and universal.

As campaign group Basic Income Conversation has noted, the study’s emphasis on universality and unconditionality is noteworthy as many previous trials have taken different routes, for example connecting payments to employment status. 

As a result, if Scotland’s pilot was truly unconditional and universal, the group says, it could provide “ground-breaking, world leading new insight into piloting this transformative policy”. 

An important way in which the pilot’s Basic Income would be universal is that payments would be uniform, that is, everyone will receive an equal amount regardless of their income, employment status or other personal circumstances. 

A key driver in going ahead with a pilot is testing the impact Basic Income could have on tackling poverty and inequality, and many argue that making payments uniform is necessary in order to achieve this goal.

As Annie Miller writes in Essentials of Basic Income, a significant counterargument to Basic Income is whether it is sensible to “give it to rich people who do not need it” – her response being that “in order to create a just, united and inclusive society, everyone must receive a Basic Income”.

She points to people being more likely to value and thus protect a system from which they benefit, and to actual monetary savings made by removing means-testing as reasons why payments must be uniform.

Criticisms leveled against our current social welfare system include means-testing not being in the interests of those most in need, and a high number of those who are eligible for support not – for a variety of reasons – benefitting. 

Making Basic Income uniform has thus been put forward as a way of potentially minimising inequality and guaranteeing everyone an adequate standard of living.

It must be noted, however, that while the pilot’s Basic Income would be universal in the sense that everyone in the control group received a share, there is one factor that affects the uniformity of payment: your age. 

As noted in the steering group’s report: “Advocates suggest that in a test of a pure [BI], age is the only permitted instance where the [BI] rate varies according to personal attribute.”

Basic Income will thus not be affected by factors such as your pre-existing income, but it will be affected by the minimum income level required to reduce poverty and inequality, as determined by your age group.

The steering group has broken down its payment levels into five age groups: 0 to 15; 16 to 19; 20 to 24; 25 to pension age; and pension age. 

Calculations used for these variations include current benefit payment bands for the low-level group, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard for the high-level group.

For the low-level payment, both 0 to 15 and 16 to 19-year-olds would receive £84.54 per week, those between 20 and 24 would receive £57.90, 25 to pension age £73.10 and pension age £168.60.

Meanwhile, the high-level group’s 0 to 15-year-olds would receive £120.48, all three groups between 16 and pension age would get £213.59 and pension age £195.90.

For both groups, adults would receive their payment on an individual basis – not paid to households as for Universal Credit – while children and “adults without capacity” would receive payments through a parent/guardian. 

Uniformity of payment in a basic income system guarantees a basic standard of living for everyone who receives it, which many see as not currently provided by existing welfare provisions. 

By only disaggregating payment by age, Scotland’s trial will seek to test a fundamental tenet of Basic Income theory: whether everyone receiving the same amount of money with no strings attached can raise the minimum standard of living to an acceptable level for everyone involved. 

Catherine Anderson, Basic Income Network Scotland volunteer

Image credit: “busy Buchanan Street” by byronv2 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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