Implementing a Minimum Income Guarantee in Scotland

Reflections from an IPPO Workshop hosted by the University of Glasgow by Research and Knowledge Exchange Lead at the University of Glasgow

Please find the recorded session on our YouTube channel here.

Sarah Weakley

The Scottish Government is committed to commencing work in the current Parliament to provide a Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) for all, incorporating the idea of basic services, such as childcare or the NHS. It has set up a Steering Group to work on the delivery of a MIG in Scotland. The IPPO event on June 1 brought together academics, practitioners, officials and other interested partners to discuss the considerations, practicalities and design mechanisms for a pilot. The event – hosted by Professor Graeme Roy, IPPO’s Policy Engagement Lead for Scotland – also highlighted existing work on defining minimum income in the UK and a pilot project from the United States of an unconditional cash payment to a small number of families for two years. 

This discussion builds on the work of Dr Joe Chrisp and Laura Smyth at the University of Bath, who produced a rapid evidence review of basic income pilot schemes in OECD countries published by IPPO in March 2022.

Russell Gunson, Head of Programmes and Practice at The Robertson Trust and the leader of the Scottish Government’s MIG Steering Group, set out how the Scottish Government is defining a minimum income guarantee and the steering group remit over the next three years. 

An MIG is an assurance that no one will fall below a set income level that would allow them to live a dignified life. A MIG can be delivered through employment, targeted welfare payments and also through other types of support or services to be provided or subsidised by the state. A MIG aims to tackle poverty and drive financial security, described by Russell Gunson as ‘more a social justice than a labour market intervention’. See the Scottish Government’s factsheet about the Minimum Income Guarantee here.

Professor Sharon Wright reflected on the potential of a MIG in Scotland to prevent poverty within the context of the existing UK and Scottish social security systems. She put forth scenarios for policy implementation that consider different powers for Scotland with regards to social security, taxation, and devolution. She stressed that MIG can prevent poverty if income is adequate and secure; is calculated after housing costs; and if taxation is effective enough to make a MIG possible in Scotland. 

Abigail Davis and Matt Padley shared Loughborough University’s research on the UK’s Minimum Income Standard. This research has, since 2008, worked with people in the UK to answer the question, ‘How much is enough?’ to live a dignified life. They shared the detailed process of creating the Minimum Income Standard and updating it every two years and what the results of the Minimum Income Standard tells us about Scottish households today, including the impact of the cost of living crisis. Those working on the MIG in Scotland can learn lessons from this project on how to define minimum needs and a dignified life and how to update any policy so that the MIG can adequately meet the needs of those in Scotland.

The discussion focussed on how an MIG would work alongside existing benefits such as Universal Credit and legacy benefits, with the point raised that a MIG may have the potential to increase complexity given the existing powers of the Scottish Government to raise taxes and borrow for social programmes. However, Russell Gunson noted the value of considering what a full MIG might look like for Scotland – with all powers in place – to then work backwards to create some MIG first steps. 

The second half of the session focussed on the practicalities of a MIG pilot. Dr Peter Craig discussed learning from policy pilots in the past when considering the MIG work ahead. He drew our attention to a useful Cabinet Office report from 2003 on the learning from previous policy pilots, Trying It Out, and gave four recommendations for implementing a MIG pilot in Scotland. These were to: use a mix of methods to evaluate impacts and the process of change in a complex intervention like a MIG; design the pilot and evaluation jointly; be realistic about the questions a pilot can answer and avoid over-elaboration (e.g. an intervention with too many variations); and utilise routinely collected data on income and other outcomes – a process that will take time. 

Professor Kat Smith then shared her research on what helps innovative policies succeed, and what lessons can be drawn from successful policies for a MIG in Scotland. She used her research into the success of tobacco control measures to draw out lessons learned, highlighting the importance of advocacy, economics, and public stakeholders in successfully introducing innovative policies. 

Finally, we heard from Kate Garvey and Lesa Gilbert who introduced the Guaranteed Income Pilot in Alexandria, Virginia in the United States. Kate and Lesa – from the Department of Community and Human Services in the City of Alexandria City Government – shared the design of their project, the partners they have involved in the pilot, their intended outcomes and how this project is part of a larger aim to change social assistance at a state and federal level. Their work was an example of all the considerations needed to get a programme like this off the ground. 

Together the speakers and discussion brought to light some key considerations and questions to ask of a MIG in Scotland, and we thank all those for participating in this event.