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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has backed the scheme which would see every citizen provided with guaranteed payments no matter what their circumstances are. Ms Sturgeon said of UBI: “I am a supporter of [UBI], I have long been interested in the concept, I think the case for it has been immeasurably strengthened by the crisis we’re living through.”
But Benny Higgins, who helped to produce a recent report on how the Scottish economy should recover from COVID-19, said the scheme would be an “expensive distraction”.
He told The Herald: “My personal conclusion at the moment is that we’ve really got to use all of our resources to get people back to work, rather than support them out of work.
“I think, therefore, this isn’t the time to prioritise a universal basic income.
“I’d rather we use all of our resources to get Scotland back to work.”
A Scottish Government study recommended that Scots are paid £11,000 a year as part of a £186 million experiment.
The study revealed that this could take place as part of a three year pilot by the Scottish and UK Governments alongside local authorities.
Four councils including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and North Ayrshire worked on the research for two years with NHS Health Scotland, now part of Public Health Scotland.
The Scottish government said that a three-year pilot will provide a better understanding of how an income could impact on poverty, unemployment, health and financial wellbeing.
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SNP MP Douglas Chapman who represents West Fife backed calls for the scheme after submitting a written question to the Department for Work and Pensions.
It revealed that £1 million worth of Universal Credit advance payments were issued in his constituency between March 1 and June 16, 2,310 amid signs of increasing unemployment due to COVID-19.
He added to The Courier: “The Scottish Government currently does not have the power to implement one.
“The UK Government needs to either transfer the powers to Holyrood or introduce the system nationwide to make sure everyone has a guaranteed income and no one is left behind by this crisis.”
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However, Holyrood does not have the powers to introduce a universal basic income on its own because the majority of welfare and tax responsibilities are still reserved to Westminster.
Mr Higgins continued: “We’re faced with an unprecedented challenge, and the biggest issue we’re facing is the levels of unemployment.
“And I think to be distracted by universal basic income now, at a time when actually it would be very expensive and it would detract from the focus on unemployment, I think it’s just not the right time.”
In response to the concerns, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said that Scotland had significant “welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”
It comes after Scottish Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop warned that she could see levels of unemployment not experienced since the 1980s following the release of unemployment figures.
She promised a “national effort” to tackle rising jobless figures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as official statistics showed the number of people in work in Scotland fell by 47,000 between March and May.
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