Universal Basic Income – Scotland

Poverty and mental health

Poverty is a cause and the effect of mental ill health.

A quarter of children and one-fifth of working-age adults live in poverty in Scotland. This effect contributes to Scotland having the highest suicide rate in the UK and the highest level of drug-related deaths in western Europe.

Poverty is a major cause of inequality in education, employment opportunities, and physical and mental health. To achieve good mental health for all, we must take bold action to ease poverty and increase opportunities and life chances for people affected by multiple deprivations.

Graphic of a coin in some hands, representing UBI

What is Universal Basic Income (UBI)? 

Universal Basic Income is a cash payment given to individuals on a regular basis. It is not means-tested, and there is no requirement to work or look for work.

Examples of Universal Basic Income programmes have taken place worldwide. While mental health benefits are rarely evaluated, some of these programmes have found that participants' well-being is improved and they are less likely to experience mental ill health. Children who receive payments have also been found to be less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, are more likely to stay in school longer and have improved physical and mental health. These improved living standards and hugely reduced risk of financial strain also positively affect social and community spirit.

What do we think should happen in Scotland? 

We know that our current welfare system has a negative effect on the mental health of people who depend on it. Universal Basic Income may go some way to alleviating the harmful effects associated with claiming benefits and, in particular, the experience and threat of sanctions.

We are calling for pilot Universal Basic Income programmes to be carried out in Scotland

As part of the evaluation, we ask that the mental health and wellbeing of recipients and their children are taken into account.

We are calling for any future Universal Basic Income pilots in Scotland to include thorough evaluations of how this affects the mental health and well-being of recipients, their children and society more widely.

Benefit sanctions should be stopped

Sanctions often lead to additional stress and worsening mental health problems. Given the welfare system is an issue reserved for Westminster, we call on the Scottish Government to take action to make sure that if benefits sanctions continue, claimants are still well supported.

Tackle the stigma experienced by people claiming Universal Credit

This could be partially addressed by removing some barriers to getting it. In particular, reducing the 5-week wait for payments, making advance payments available immediately and removing the current requirement to repay them over the following 12 months.

Introduce unconditional benefits for children including ending the two-child cap

Evidence supports positive mental health outcomes from unconditional benefits for children. In order to improve the life chances of children, existing unconditional benefits for children should be expanded by ending the two-child limit and making parents of children aged 3 and below exempt from the benefit cap.

Increase the Scottish Child Payment

We welcome commitments to doubling the Scottish Child Payment and recommend that the mental health effects of this on children’s wellbeing should be closely evaluated. 

Finally, we must explore other options similar to UBI

To increase our understanding of how policies similar to UBI might influence health risk behaviours and the need for mental health support or treatment, we recommend that pilot programmes take place in four local authority areas in Scotland, where unconditional cash transfers for low-income families are offered. Evaluation of the programme should include an analysis of the impact on the mental health of the recipients, health service usage and if there is a reduction in health risk behaviours.

Poverty is one of the main risk factors linked to poor mental health. We cannot achieve good mental health for all in Scotland if we do not effectively tackle the causes of poverty. Introducing UBI is one measure that should be explored.