VIDEO: “Basic income – real social security”
Videos of all presentations and Q&A sessions are available online.
Public officials in Fife are currently working to establish a pilot study of basic income in the region, which is likely to be designed as a saturation study in a town (in which all residents of the chosen site are eligible to receive the basic income for the duration of the pilot). In November 2015, the Fairer Fife Commission (an independent commission created by the Fife Council) released a report that called for a basic income pilot as one of 40 recommendations to achieve a “fairer Fife”. Specifically, the commission encouraged the community planning board, the Fife Partnership, to select a town in Fife in which to run a pilot informed by “leading practice around the world” (with the planned study in Utrecht cited as an example of global leading practice at the time). In November 2016, the Fife Council voted to convene a group to carry out an initial feasibility study in early 2017.
The potential Fife pilot is still being designed. When asked about its details at the Kelty event, Paul Vaughn, Head of Community and Corporate Development at the Fife Council, relayed that the Council wishes to select a town of 2,000 to 5,000 people for the study, and that the pilot would run for at least two years. Otherwise, the details of the study’s design (including the amount of the basic income) are still “up for grabs”.
Meeting in Kelty
At CBINS’s Kelty meeting (titled “Basic income – real social security”), participants addressed broad issues concerning the motivation to pursue a basic income in Fife, the promises and potential pitfalls of pilot studies, and political support for a basic income in Fife and Scotland.
After introductory remarks by CBINS’s Willie Sullivan and Maddy Halliday, guest speaker Karl Widerquist (BIEN co-chair and associate professor of philosophy at University of Georgetown-Qatar) presented a justification of basic income as compensation for individuals’ deprivation of access to natural resources due the institution of private property. Widerquist argued no person should be forced to work for others out of necessity, and that a basic income would provide an incentive for employers to provide better wages.
After Widerquist spoke on the general question of “why basic income”, Vaughn turned to the question of “why Fife”. Vaughn provided an overview of the challenges currently faced by the council area, especially with respect to poverty and deprivation, noting that Fife tends to be representative of Scotland as a whole on measures such as health, employment, community safety, and other indicators used by government and community planners. Further, Vaughn presented the work of the Fairer Fife Commission that instigated the investigation into the pilot. Although the commission report made dozens of recommendations, the suggestion of a basic income pilot has generated the most interest among local authorities, according to Vaughn. However, as Vaughn described, a great deal remains to be completed, from awareness raising to gaining political and financial support to working out the implementation details and other preparatory work.
During the afternoon CBINS’s Annie Miller chaired a session in which Mike Danson (CBINS trustee and Professor of Enterprise Policy at Heriot-Watt University) and Widerquist offered two different perspectives on basic income experiments. Danson encouraged the audience to begin thinking through the myriad challenges related to implementing a basic income and even a pilot study thereof — raising many examples himself. Should students receive the benefit? Who counts as a “citizen” for the purpose of the basic income? Will the databases used to track recipients miss some of the most vulnerable (e.g. the homeless)? Given that a pilot would ideally be conducted at the national level (since the central government exerts control over taxation and other welfare benefits), how can local and regional pilots be useful?
Widerquist then spoke about limitations and potential dangers of pilot studies. For example, any pilot study, even a saturation study, cannot discern all impacts of a basic income on the labor market, given that the labor market is national (even global). Moreover, he cautioned that those who conduct pilot studies have a tendency to focus on whatever outcomes are easiest to record and measure (the “streetlight effect”), such as effects on work hours, rather than thinking broadly about the possible effects of a basic income. And he warned that policymakers are others are likely to try to spin results of any study to their advantage; for example, policymakers are likely to portray any decrease in work hours as a bad outcome.
Finally, public officials representing positions across the political spectrum briefly presented their views on the idea of a basic income for Scotland. Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) Alex Rowley (Labour) enjoined Scotland to be ambitious and bold in tackling poverty. Fife Councillor Dave Dempsey (Conservative), a former student of mathematics, described basic income as an “elegant” solution, and revealed that the Fife Conservatives support the idea (although he could not speak for Scottish Conservatives in general). Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, emphasized the ability of basic income to transform the nature of society and the economy. Chapman noted that, as well as ameliorating many problems with the welfare system, a basic income would support work that is currently unpaid or underpaid, such as care work. Another Fife Councillor, Lesley Lewis (Labour), addressed some of the issues and challenges in winning public support. Finally, Member of Parliament (MP) Ronnie Cowan (Scottish National Party), a long-standing supporter of basic income, also spoke about the uphill battle faced by proponents of the idea — especially given that money is highly valued in society as a mark of success. Cowan encouraged everyone to write a personal letter to their MPs and MSPs in support of basic income, stressing that letters do influence policymakers.
More information on the event
Gerry Mulvenna, “Basic income – real social security,” The Independence Live Blog, January 30, 2017.
“Flashback to Kelty: Maddy’s opening address at our Pilot event,” Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland blog, February 6, 2017.
Liam Turbett, “The Scottish Town Planning to Give Everyone Free Money,” Vice, February 1, 2017.
Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan
Photo: Fife’s Roome Bay, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Tom Parnell