By Dr Benjamin Simmons, Trustee of Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland and Professor Mike Danson, Heriot Watt University
Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland (CBINS) is a new organisation set up to raise awareness of the benefits that a Basic Income would bring to Scotland. CBINS’ mission is “to advance research and public education about the economic and social effects of Citizen’s Basic Income systems – schemes which guarantee an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to every citizen as a right of citizenship.”
With plans for pilots in Fife, Glasgow, North Ayrshire and Edinburgh being developed, and with Scottish Government support announced recently, this is an excellent time to be better informed and critically aware of what is being proposed, the benefits, the potential impacts and how it can be made affordable.
A Basic Income (or Citizen’s Income) would represent a major step forward for equality, fairness, and a human right to be free from poverty. It would replace a lot of the current benefits and personal tax allowances system with an unconditional, non-withdrawable payment to each Scottish ‘citizen’ (however that is defined, but including children and adults of all ages). In other words, you and everyone you know who lives in Scotland would receive the same minimum payment from the government each month regardless of your circumstances. This would replace much of the current benefits system, which is expensive to administer, overcomplicated, and unfair.
There are already elements of a basic income system in place in the form of personal tax allowances, child benefit, and pensions. We can build on this platform to extend the financial security they try to provide to every citizen.
We have created a short Briefing Paper which you can read and download from here: https://cbin.scot/what-is-a-basic-income/briefing-paper/.
A basic income is a fixed amount of money paid to citizens which never decreases or disappears no matter the circumstances of that citizen. For example, unemployed, low wage, and rich people of the same age-bracket (i.e. not a child or a pensioner) would all receive the same basic level of state support. Children, adults, and pensioners would be provided with different levels of basic income. The objective of a basic income is to alleviate poverty caused by low wages and the benefits trap.
Today’s social security system is a product of incremental changes to a system designed for an age in which an unskilled male breadwinner could earn enough to support a wife and one child and unskilled work was widely available. It is designed to weed out the ‘undeserving’ and make sure that no-one receives more than they need, even if this comes at the cost of some people not getting enough. The means-testing process results in those with the lowest earnings having a higher effective tax rate than the wealthiest in our society. It is extremely expensive to administer, and consumes funds that should instead be distributed to the people the system is intended to help. If we were to design a system from scratch today it would look vastly different to the system currently in place; it is time for radical reform of the way our society supports its citizens.
A basic income (also called a Citizen’s Income, or Universal Basic Income) represents just such a reform. It is an unconditional, non-withdrawable, non-selective payment to every individual citizen. In other words, we all would receive the same amount of state support into our personal bank accounts regardless of whether we were in paid work. The only difference in entitlement between citizens might be based on age, such as pensioners receiving greater support due to our acceptance that they should not have to augment their income with paid work. There are many reasons why this would be a positive development for society, which we invite you to explore https://cbin.scot/. We believe this is a realistic and feasible approach to addressing poverty in Scotland.
There are many different proposals for how much a Basic Income should be, and many different proposals about how such a system could be phased in. We recognise these questions will be the first thing that people ask when they learn about basic income, and we welcome the discussion. There are links to various proposals on the website, however we think that at this early stage it is more productive to seek a broad consensus that a basic income is desirable and feasible, and build support for the principle of basic income with the same common purpose: to see a basic income introduced here in Scotland.