THE Scottish Government will today begin work on a multi-billion pound plan to provide every household with a minimum level of income to help tackle poverty.
Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison will co-chair the first meeting of a steering group to develop the policy, which could necessitate massive tax rises.
Ms Robison has also launched a month-long public consultation on how a revolutionary “minimum income guarantee” could be designed and delivered in Scotland.
The Scottish Tories warned the “eye-watering costs” could devastate the economy.
The initiative delivers on an SNP’s election promises for the first 100 days of government.
Different from a flat-rate universal basic income, a minimum income guarantee would see money targeted at those with the least to give every household an acceptable standard of living and reduce poverty, inequality and insecurity.
It could involve employment, tax relief, social security benefits, as well as services in kind, such as childcare and transport.
But the indicative costs are vast.
A recent report by the IPPR thinktank suggested a monthly core entitlement of £1,244 for a couple household, and £792 for a single person household, plus additional payments for children, could cost £7billion in Scotland in 2022/23, a sixth of the Holyrood budget.
The report said the extra spending would have to be balanced by cuts or tax rises, and suggested hiking income tax, council tax and creating a new property tax, though even this would raise barely £1.5bn.
It suggested the Scottish Government should aim to have an income guarantee by 2030.
The steering group consists of two smaller groups – a strategy group of MSPs, chaired by Ms Robison, and an expert group chaired by IPPR director Russell Gunson.
All Holyrood’s parties are represented on the strategy group, which includes Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy and Tory social justice spokesman Miles Briggs.
The expert group includes Chris Birt of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Fiona Collie of Carers Scotland and Mubin Haq of the Standard Life Foundation.
Mr Briggs said: “The SNP must ensure this group is fully transparent over the eye-watering potential costs of any minimum income scheme. Even the SNP’s own economic advisors have admitted this would mean almost all Scots being hit with tax rises.
“As we recover from the pandemic, these proposals could have devastating effects for the economy. The SNP have failed at every stage so far to outline exactly how much a rollout of a basic income would cost. I will be pushing to guarantee this group will also be exploring other and better targeted ways of supporting people living in poverty.”
Ms Robison said: “We are committed to progressing the delivery of a Minimum Income Guarantee, which could be revolutionary in our fight against poverty. It is a clear demonstration of our ambition and aspiration for Scotland.
“The policy is innovative, bold and radical. It reflects our clear desire to do everything with our limited powers to deliver the change needed, using every lever at our disposal.
“Eradicating child poverty and building a fairer, more equal country must be a national mission, not just for the government, but our parliament and broader society.
“We recognise this is a cross-government responsibility and we are focused on working together to push forward poverty reduction in Scotland.
“We must look at ways of maximising household incomes from work and social security, as well as reducing costs on essentials including services such as childcare. A Minimum Income Guarantee will not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but there is a willingness to deliver on our ambition.”
Mr Gunson said: “A Minimum Income Guarantee could transform the lives of people across Scotland, setting an income floor in Scotland beneath which no one would fall. To build a fairer and stronger Scotland following Covid-19 we will need to think big ideas in Scotland and think just as big on how to implement them.
“The MIG Steering Group is a great step, bringing cross-party representatives and experts from across Scotland together to shape a Minimum Income Guarantee and make progress on delivering it.
“I’m delighted to be co-chair and look forward to working hard together to see tangible progress towards delivering a Minimum Income Guarantee for Scotland over the coming years.”