Europes first national experimentation in dedicating citizens free money has attracted huge media attention. But one year in, what does this project really hope to prove?
One year on from its launching, the world remains fascinated by Finland’s groundbreaking universal basic income trial: Europe’s first national, government-backed experimentation in devoting citizens free cash.
In January 2017, the Nordic nation began paying a random but mandatory sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 a monthly EUR5 60( PS475 ). There is no obligation either to try or accept employment during the two years the trial lasts, and any who do take a undertaking will continue to receive the same amount.
With the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders all proponents of a universal basic income( UBI) model, Finnish officials and participants have been inundated with media requests from around the globe. One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 Tv crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time.
But amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the strategy are concerned it is being falsified.” It’s not really what people are portraying it as ,” said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime minister’s office in Helsinki.
” A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups , not just the unemployed. It would have to exam different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects matters of employment of unemployed people .”
While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland’s trial was launched- at a cost of around EUR2 0m( PS17. 7m)- by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland’s stubborn 8% -plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work.
Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract.
” It’s partly about removing disincentives ,” explained Marjukka Turunen, who heads the legal division at Finland’s social security agency, Kela, which is running the experimentation. Kanerva describes the trial as” an experiment in smoothing out the system “.
To maintain privacy and avoid bias, Kela is not contacting any of the 2,000 participants for the duration of the two-year trial. A handful have given interviews to journalists( several have said they feeling less emphasized thanks to the scheme ), but no official conclusions are yet being drawn from these anecdotal experiences.
According to Kanerva, however, the core data the government is seeking- on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000 -strong control group- will be” robust, and usable in future economic modelling” when it is published in 2019.
The idea of UBI had been circulating in left-of-centre political circles in Finland since the 1980 s, mainly as a way to combat the economic and social the effects of falling industrial job by freeing all- from students to the elderly; stay-at-home parents to the unemployed- to attain meaningful contributions to society by, for example, volunteering.
Appealing both to the left( who believe it can cut poverty and inequality) and, more recently, to the right( as a possible way to a leaner, less bureaucratic welfare system ), UBI seems all the most attractive amid warnings that automation could threaten up to a third of current undertakings in the west within 20 years. Other basic income strategies are now being tested from Ontario to rural Kenya, and Glasgow to Barcelona.
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