Universal basic income scheme set to trial

Scotland is set to pilot a radical scheme to give every citizen a universal basic income (UBI), regardless of whether they work or not.

Two Labour-run councils, Fife and Glasgow, are designing trial schemes following meetings held late last year.

What level the basic income would be set at is yet to be announced, but the councils are to go ahead with the pilots, subject to sufficient funding being secured.

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Under UBI, welfare benefits such as working tax credits, Jobseekers’ Allowance and state pensions are replaced by a single, unconditional flat-rate payment, regardless of whether the recipient is in employment. Any money earned after this is subject to taxation.

Glasgow councillor Matt Kerr has been championing the idea and says his investigations into poverty convinced him a basic income was the way forward.

“Like lots of people, I was interested in the idea, but never completely convinced,” said Kerr, who added that he “kept coming back to the basic income”.

Kerr sees the basic income as a way of simplifying the UK’s complicated welfare system. “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.”

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Jamie Cooke, head of think tank the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Scotland, which conducted research into the scheme, attended a meeting with Fife Council about the idea, which is said to have been well received.

Speaking afterwards, Cooke said: “This is a significant step forward for basic income in Scotland, giving a very realistic chance of a pilot taking place in Scotland within the next couple of years.”

As to where the money would come from, Cooke replied: “It could be funding from particular trusts, it could be individual philanthropic funding, or it could be a redirection of the existing welfare state spend.”

Glasgow is the most deprived local authority area in Scotland, with one in three children in the city said to be living in poverty.

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Brazil implemented a basic income for its citizens in 2003, but it has been heavily criticised and its continuation is now under threat. The country’s welfare system has been accused of discouraging citizens from looking for work.

Over 13 million Brazilian families receive funds from Bolsa Família, which has been described as “the largest programme of its kind in the world”.

Brazil’s impoverished citizens receive money from the Bolsa Familia programme, which is a private foundation. The amount of money transferred depends on family size and monthly income, with the average family receiving just over £50 a month.

Many Brazilians feel recipients are content to live on the programme’s wages and therefore stop looking for employment.