Scotland’s first minister said she had “long been interested” in the concept which would see existing means-tested benefits replaced with a flat rate income, regardless of earnings, to all citizens.
But the SNP leader also said it would require the cooperation of the UK government, as she highlighted recent proposals from Reform Scotland suggesting adults should be given £5,200 per year – £100 per week.
It comes as the latest figures show 1.2 million people have made claims for universal credit in the past three weeks as government measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus brought swathes of the economy to a standstill.
The think tank said a basic income would ensure “financial certainty to the many people who have been thrown into a sudden and catastrophic loss of employment or reduced hours” as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Reform Scotland said the scheme would cost the Scottish government £20.4bn per year, but suggested raising over £18bn through scrapping personal tax allowances alongside some traditional benefit payments.
“Our current social security system is overly complicated, and actively discourages work because the loss of benefits when a person start work can often leave them losing money. People are suffering from the pandemic because they are doing the right thing by government. Now the government must do the right thing by the people.”
In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “This is an interesting and timely read from Reform Scotland – I’ve long been interested in concept of UBI but the current situation strengthens the case immeasurably.”
She added it would require the cooperation of the UK government as the Scottish parliament did not currently have the powers. “But hopefully we can have a serious discussion,” she said.
Last month, Rishi Sunak rejected calls for a basic income to deal with the financial insecurity many people across the country are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus and government restrictions on public life.
Speaking in the Commons after Boris Johnson announced the current lockdown, the chancellor insisted the government had already injected more money into welfare, as over 170 MPs urged ministers to support a basic income.
“We’re not in favour of a universal basic income, although we have strengthened the safety net for the most vulnerable in our society with over £7bn invested in improving our welfare system,” Mr Sunak said. “Those payments are all available much quicker, much easier and more generously than they were before and I know that will make an enormous difference to many vulnerable people.”
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