A Basic Income (BI) is defined as follows:
• It is assessed on the basis of the individual, not of the couple; a poorer partner would no longer be a ‘financial dependent’ in this day and age!
• It would be universal, rather than targeted on poor people as now, which has segregated, stigmatised, humiliated and rejected them.
• It is neither selective, (since it gives the same amount to everyone of the same age), nor means-tested – thus restoring the incentive to work-for-pay embodied in the wage rate.
• It is unconditional, avoiding the risk of destitution associated with the current savage sanctions, and the ill-health caused by stress and uncertainty.
A BI scheme aims to transform our society to one underpinned by the four values engraved on the Scottish mace: wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity. It would enable a government to fulfill its first duty – ensuring the security of the people – that is, the financial security that keeps its citizens out of poverty.
A society underwritten by a BI system would value each person for her own sake, not on account of her work or income. It would give adults more control over the use of their time and help them to achieve a better work-life balance. It could help to redistribute income from rich to poor and reduce income inequality, helping to heal our divided society. It could also help to simplify social security administration. A BI system would work well for either a full employment economy or one affected by job losses from further automation.
A BI would cover only basic needs, and a separate housing benefit system would have to be retained for the foreseeable future. Similarly, disability benefits, social care and childcare provision would be separate.
In November 2015, Fife indicated its wish to host a BI pilot study. This was echoed by City of Glasgow Council a year later and by North Ayrshire early in 2017. Both Fife and Glasgow (supported by the Royal Society for the Arts in Scotland) have arranged meetings for interested parties – the voluntary sector, communities and individuals, including those who are current Social Security service users. On 24 August, the City of Edinburgh Council voted to join the Scottish pilot scheme, which means that the three largest councils in Scotland will be involved.
A BI pilot involves much planning that is crucial for a productive and statistically rigorous project. This could easily take 2-3 years. The definition above merely defines a class of income-maintenance systems. Further prioritised objectives, assumptions and constraints are necessary to design a particular BI scheme. One way in which the planning process could start is by identifying the most aspirational but realistic secondary objectives aimed at by the various interests in the community. When a consensus has been reached, the planning group must design a BI scheme that will yield the desired outcomes, together with the stages by which the scheme would be gradually implemented. This will enable the experiment to test the effects of different levels of BI on the individuals in the samples. The planning group must also design the experiment, identify appropriate geographic locations, determine sample sizes, and design and test questionnaires.
Alongside the planning process, a comprehensive educational programme is necessary to ensure that the population is well-informed, including about any possible challenges along the way. It is also important that the population engages with their political representatives (Councillors, MSPs and MPs) so that they, too, are well-primed and positive when the final comprehensive plan is put to the Councillors to sign off, and to the Scottish Government for funding, and the Westminster Government is asked to accommodate the experiments.
On 5 September, the Scottish Government announced that it will establish a fund to help these local authorities to develop their proposals further and establish suitable testing. But there is a long way to go yet. A BI scheme is a not a panacea for all ills, but it is a necessary condition for a better society.
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