SNP conference backs universal basic income for independent Scotland

Delegates said the proposal for a payment to all citizens had the potential to eradicate poverty

Jon Stone
Tuesday 15 March 2016 11:14 GMT
Delegates at the SNP Spring Conference 2016 watch Nicola Sturgeon speak
Delegates at the SNP Spring Conference 2016 watch Nicola Sturgeon speak

The Scottish National Party’s conference has backed the principle of a universal basic income to replace the current welfare system.

SNP members agreed a motion stating that “conference believes that a basic or universal income can potentially provide a foundation to eradicate poverty, make work pay and ensure all our citizens can live in dignity”.

The motion called for more research into the impact of the policy, which would unconditionally give all citizens an income from the state.

Members also agreed that a basic income should be considered as a possibility when designing the welfare state of an independent Scotland.

The motion comes after around two SNP dozen MPs backed a call for a feasibility study into the policy.

MPs who signed a UK Parliament early day motion included Neil Gray, the SNP’s work and employment spokesperson at Westminster.

The idea has already features in proposals by the radical independence movement, including by the Scottish Greens.

A universal basic income is the idea of paying all citizens a flat, unconditional income, unusually instead of existing policies like means-tested benefits.

Proponents of the idea say it would save on welfare administration costs, reduce the poverty traps of traditional welfare states, be fair to people who have jobs, and give people more autonomy in general.

Opponents of the income have raised concerns including work disincentives, lack of targeted support for those most in need, and the size of the spending commitment required.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has tabled a motion on the policy, which has so far attracted signatures from 31 MPs, most of them SNP.

That motion came a week French MPs were asked to consider a similar amendment to the country’s Digital Republic Bill calling for more research into the basic income idea.

Interest in the proposed policy, which has support on both the left and right of politics, has surged in recent months.

Finland has launched similar feasibility study to the one proposed in France, and Switzerland is set to consider a basic income at national referendum.

Last year the respected think-tank the RSA suggested that the UK adopt a universal basic income of £71 a week for all adults, with children also getting a payment similar to child benefit.

“The welfare state has become incredibly complex whilst locking those it seeks to help in a vicious circle of low pay, insecurity and an intrusive state. The RSA doubts the current system can be fixed,” said Anthony Painter, the report’s author.

Finland's Government has already launched a feasibility study into the policy

“A system of universal basic income is the best alternative to help people improve their own lives over time – it provides better security to support people’s needs to work, learn, set up a business or care for their family.”

During the Labour leadership contest Jeremy Corbyn, who now leads the party, said he was interested in the idea of a “guaranteed social wage” – a similar proposal – but that he believed there were issued that had to be worked through.

The SNP’s spring conference took place on 12 and 13 March in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow.

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