Scotland should commit to introducing a minimum income guarantee if it is to learn lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a think tank.
A new report from IPPR Scotland suggests the proposal – recommended by the recent independent Social Renewal Advisory Board – could effectively eradicate poverty in the country.
Researchers found “a concerning gap” between current social security for low-income households and what was needed to support an acceptable standard of living.
According to the report, some households were living on between a third and a half of the income needed, with one example indicating that a couple with three children in Scotland could be left more than £1,300 a month short.
Rachel Statham, senior research fellow at IPPR Scotland, said: “The impact of Covid-19 has not been felt evenly. Even prior to the pandemic, one million people in Scotland were trapped in poverty.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the Government had to scramble to provide furlough and emergency uplifts to prevent disastrous consequences.
“But without a new approach, the system will continue to fail people living in poverty and insecurity every day. We need to learn lessons from this crisis, so that we are prepared for the next.
“As we emerge from the health crisis it’s now time to rebuild Scotland on the foundations of social, economic and climate justice.
“A minimum income guarantee that can ensure that no-one in Scotland falls beneath an income floor that supports an acceptable standard of living, is an idea that’s time has come.
“The next Scottish Government should set its sights on radically reforming social security to provide a springboard to fall back on, not a tightrope over poverty.”
IPPR Scotland suggests a minimum income guarantee would be made up of a core entitlement of £1,244 for a couple and £792 for a single person, per month.
Additional payments for households with children also feature in the proposal, worth £267 for the first child and £224 for each additional child per month – with no limit on the number of dependent children that could be claimed for, but payment withdrawn as earnings increase.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said the report showed “in stark detail the gap between the income so many families have to live on”.
He added: “It’s vital that all Scotland political parties heed that call and put fixing family finances at the heart of the election campaign.
“Of course, increasing family benefits on its own cannot end child poverty … we need to see action on pay and conditions to make work a route to an adequate income.
“In order to reach the 2023/24 child poverty targets and build the foundations on which wider action to end child poverty and a minimum income guarantee can be built, investing significantly more in the Scottish child payment now is essential.”
IPPR Scotland said the guarantee would require an estimated £7 billion of additional investment in social security spending in Scotland per year, and require further devolution of powers over social security and tax.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “It’s clear we need to go further.
“Our Scottish Green manifesto will contain bold proposals to tackle unequal pay, make the case for a universal basic income and protect people’s right to a home.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat social security spokeswoman Rosemary Bruce said: “We also support an enhanced Carers Allowance in Scotland and are campaigning for a UK-wide uplift of £1,000 per year to recognise the value of carers as well as financial support for carers to access education and training.
“As the country recovers from the pandemic we need to be bold.
“A Universal Basic Income to provide everyone with a safety net would be a way to ensure that everyone has the freedom and opportunities they deserve.”