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A basic income for Scotland: 15 minutes with Paul Vaughan

Scotland is planning one of the biggest basic income pilots in the western world, spanning four local authority areas. One of the areas taking part in the trial, due to begin in 2019, is Fife. New Start spoke to head of communities and neighbourhoods at Fife Council, Paul Vaughan

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How did Fife Council become interested in the idea of a universal basic income?
It started in November 2015 and the release of a report called Fairness Matters by the Fairer Fife Commission, which was set up to look at solutions and interventions around poverty.
There were 40 recommendations for the council and its partners and one of them was to pilot basic income in a town in Fife. The first question for us was, what is basic income? Since then we’ve been getting our heads around what it means and putting forward papers to committees. The general view from councilors has been supportive and when we took our report around seven areas of Fife, they all wanted to be the pilot area.
We’ve been working on this softly but we’ve been taken aback at the speed at which it has entered into public consciousness and the interest in exploring it as a solution. This September the Scottish Government announced support and funding for the pilots.

What are the particular problems in Fife that a basic income could solve?
For Silicon Valley the idea of a basic income is as a response to automation but for us the focus is on inequality. There are some areas of Fife with deep-seated inequalities. The central part of Fife in particular was coal-mining territory and there was a lot of heavy industry. Although some of that has been replaced there is still a lasting legacy from deindustrialization. We want to find a twenty-first century response to the levels of poverty and inequality we are seeing. We’re coming at it from a fairness perspective.

How will the pilot work?
There are four Scottish local authorities involved in the pilot – Fife, Glasgow, Edinburgh and North Ayrshire – as well as the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland, the RSA, the Citizen’s Basic Income Network in Scotland and the Carnegie Trust. There are potentially other local authority areas that are interested in looking at the impact. Basic income hasn’t yet been tested in a modern western economy with the kind of welfare system we have.
Basic income will simplify the benefit system by working in a similar way to the old child benefit, where every child received it regardless of their background.
Our preference at the moment is to do a geographic ‘saturation’ pilot, whereby we identify a town or area in Fife in which everyone receives the basic income. The alternative is to focus on a particular demographic. The Finnish pilot for example is focused on unemployed people. We need around 2000 people and we’d like the pilot to run for two years, the minimum amount of time needed to experience change.

What kind of results would you be looking for?
Firstly, we’re interested in the types of behavior changes we’d see by both simplifying the way that people receive payment and extending that payment to all. For example, in what ways would it improve health and social inclusion?
Secondly, we’re interested in what folk will choose to do with their time when they no longer have to worry about meeting their basic needs. What work will they do and how much of it? How will they split their time between work and other duties, such as caring for people? What will be the impact on labour supply and what will it mean for the ‘gig’ economy?
Thirdly, we’re interested in the impact of a basic income on entrepreneurialism. With support in place for each individual, what will be the impact on their ability to take risks?
We’re also interested in the wider impact on poverty. We have a 20% child poverty rate and we want to see what happens to that.

How much will the pilot cost?
It all depends on the model we choose and for how long we choose to run it, but we are looking in the region of £10-16.3m for weekly payments per 1000 people, based on a weekly rate of £73.10 for working adults and £159 for pensioners.
It’s difficult to articulate the net cost and the benefits that would be accrued from social outcomes and better health, but we would expect to see savings.

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