Basic income test in finland: for many, a “piece of freedom”

After two years, the trial of an unconditional basic income has come to an end in Finland. Now it is being evaluated.

Little money, a lot of courage: Drum maker Juha Jarvinen also received the Finnish basic income Photo: dpa

For those affected, the balance is positive. "The psychological aspect was very important for me," says Sini Marttinen. She had already been used to working independently and had always had a whole bunch of different jobs to make ends meet. The additional 560 euros were a good basis, "a feeling of greater security. But of course not enough to live on alone.

For Marin, whose Estonian psychology degree is not recognized in Finland, the basic income made it easier to combine her nursing studies with part-time work. And Juha Jarvinen, who builds wooden drums for traditional music in his workshop northwest of Helsinki, sums up: "In 2019, I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet economically." The basic income has enabled him to buy better machines. Now he has "more orders than I can handle" and hopes to double his income in 2019. He will then no longer be dependent on unemployment benefits.

Sini, Marin and Juha were three of 2,000 unemployed people randomly selected in November 2016 to take part in Finland’s two-year "basic income" trial. This came to an end at the turn of the year. On December 4, the last 560 euros per month had already landed in their accounts. The money was paid out independently of any other income and the state did not require anything in return. For example, the search for a job or other activities that are otherwise expected of recipients of unemployment benefits also in Finland.

At the same time, the Kela Social Insurance Agency has begun evaluating this experiment. Preliminary results will be published as early as February. A comprehensive research report comparing the subjects of the experiment, who are between years old, with a control group of 5,000 unemployed people, also randomly selected, who have not received a basic income, is expected to be ready in 2020.

End of the experiment, not the debate

"Of course, we already have initial data on employment, income and receipt of social benefits based on official records," says Kela researcher Minna Ylikanno. "We will now use interviews and questionnaires to refine and supplement this information. Apart from how the participants generally fared in the labor market or with self-employment, they are also interested in their own personal experience with the "piece of freedom" that the secure monthly income offered. Another aspect of the research will be the course of the public debate about the experiment and the Finnish population’s opinion of it. It is divided, but mostly positive.

One thing is already certain: the end of the basic income trial will not mean the end of the debate about such a basic income. Parliamentary elections will be held in Finland in April 2019, and several parties have already positioned themselves with regard to the future of possible basic income models.

The green environmental party Vihreat and Finland’s Left Party are advocating the introduction of a universal and unconditional basic income as soon as possible. They had originally initiated the idea of a "fellow citizen’s wage" but voted against the now terminated attempt when the resolution was passed in the Riksdag in 2016. Their criticism: the experiment, which was too small in terms of the number of participants, too short in terms of time and too poorly funded, could rather have the effect of burying this idea. It is a neoliberal sham and carries the seeds of further social cuts. With the intention of making short-term, low-paid jobs palatable, the already large low-wage sector threatens to grow further.

Left-wing party wants to expand and top up

The Left Party wants to avoid these disadvantages by expanding and topping up the current model: Instead of 560, it is to be 800 euros per month in addition to the normal housing allowance. If certain income limits are exceeded, however, the basic income is to be reduced or eliminated altogether. It is to be financed by an increase in income tax. Its introduction, which would have to be accompanied by a reform of the entire social system, is considered realistic by Li Andersson, chairwoman of the Left Party, from 2023 at the earliest: "Instead of being based on control and punishment, we want a system based on trust."

"As can’t be otherwise with such a social experiment, the issue is politically very controversial," says Kela research director and social science professor Olli Kangas: "It ranges from staunch supporters to outright rejection."

Kangas himself had hoped for a much more comprehensive trial and therefore doubts the significance of the current experiment. He does not have exaggerated hopes for the future of basic income, especially in Finland: "But it would be nice if the door wasn’t slammed shut right away.

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