Europe’s first national government-backed experiment in giving citizens free cash failed to encourage its participants to work more as organisers had hoped – but it did improve their wellbeing.
Under Finland’s two-year basic income trial, which ended a month ago, a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 were paid a monthly €560 (£475), with no requirement to seek or accept employment. Any recipients who took a job continued to receive the same amount.
Aimed mainly at seeing whether a guaranteed income might incentivise people to take up more low-paid or temporary work by removing their concerns about losing benefits, the scheme was strictly speaking not a universal basic income (UBI) trial since the payments were made to a restricted group and not enough to live on.
But the government had hoped it would shed light on major policy issues such as whether an unconditional payment might reduce anxiety among recipients, and allow authorities to simplify a complex social security system struggling to cope with a fast-moving and insecure labour market.
Surveying initial results from the trial, Finland’s minister of health and social affairs, Pirkko Mattila, said that based on the the first year’s data the impact of the monthly cheque on employment “seems to have been minor”.
But according to the scheme’s chief researcher, Olli Kangas, participants were happier and healthier than the control group. “The basic income recipients of the test group reported better wellbeing in every way (than) the comparison group,” he said.