Holyrood to look at Universal Basic Income as calls rise to emulate Finland

Scottish Parliament to look into feasibility of a universal basic income

A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME will be investigating and debated on by politicians in the Scottish Parliament in March this year by the social security committee.

Most of the committee’s work this year will be looking at how to apply the new welfare powers devolved under the terms of the Smith Commission but it will also study the cost and practical ease by which a UBI could be implemented.

The news follows the trials of the UBI in Finland, the Canadian province of Ontario and the Dutch cities of Groningen, Tilburg, Utrecht and Wageningen.

Speaking on the latest development Alison Johnstone MSP, spokesperson for social security for the Scottish Greens, said: "It's a policy which aims to reduce stress, end the stigma of receiving state support and reduce bureaucracy.

"It's clearly an idea worth exploring, even with the limited powers of devolution, so we build understanding and support for it. I look forward to hearing evidence from the various experts due to appear before the committee in March.”

UBI as an economic policy has grown in popularity among political parties in Europe as a way of dealing with the problems of automation, where technology is predicted to make human labour obsolete in many areas of industry.

A basic income is a periodic cash payment made unconditionally to all on an individual basis without condition or means testing. Advocates say it has the potential to deal with the long term costs of unemployment and underemployment, low wages and encourage enterprise from people freed to be economically dynamic in other parts of their life. Detractors worry about practically, cost and the impact on the ‘culture of work’.

Table showing two possible schemes and their payments to individuals 

The Scottish Greens have previously worked on possible models for a UBI as a Citizen’s Income with for every working age-adult getting £5,200 a year. Single parent households with two children would receive £10,400 and a household with two pensioners would receive £15,600 tax free. Although costing £1bn, they propose that this would be paid for through simplification of the tax system and a levy on high earners. 

Finland’s Government will begin its UBI scheme this spring with its Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) administering the trial from spring 2017 to the following year. In Ontario, the march towards a UBI trial is being led by a conservative strategist Hugh Segal who conceived of the idea after witnessing the high levels of poverty among pensioners in the region during the 1970s.

“We believe that awareness needs to raised in communities as much as in parliament about the benefit of basic income, beyond simple financial terms and in the context of improving quality of life across a range of measures.” Ben Simmons

Johnstone added: “A Citizen’s Income, coupled with progressive taxation, is a long-standing Scottish Green Party policy, and during the 2014 independence campaign we outlined how an independent Scotland could make it happen and how it would reduce inequality in society.”

The move was also welcomed by voices in the Citizen’s Basic Income Network (CBIN) in Scotland which recently launched as a thinktank to promote and research the idea. Ben Simmons, a board member and advocate said to CommonSpace: “The rising popularity of basic income as a topic of discussion is great to see for a few reasons. It shows there is a realisation that the current system is not succeeding, but also that piecemeal reform to an already chaotic bureaucracy is not the sole course of action.

“We believe that awareness needs to raised in communities as much as in parliament about the benefit of basic income, beyond simple financial terms and in the context of improving quality of life across a range of measures.”

Picture courtesy of Tom Parnell

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.