The results of a social experiment in Finland which saw unemployed people paid a basic income by the government has bolstered calls for the scheme to be tested in the UK as a possible alternative to Universal Credit.
As part of a nationwide trial, 2,000 randomly-selected unemployed people were given €560 a month to live on for two years. Unlike traditional benefits, they continued to receive the same amount of money even if they became employed or failed to look for a job altogether.
While there was no evidence from the first year of the experiment that the scheme incentivised work, with both basic income recipients and a control group working around 49 days on average, test subjects rated their levels of wellbeing much higher.
Compared to 46% of the control group, 55% of those receiving basic income described their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Meanwhile, only 17% said their stress levels were ‘high’ or ‘very high’, versus a quarter of control subjects.
Lead researcher Minna Ylikännö said that while the results may appear contradictory, they were understandable.
“The basic income may have a positive effect on the wellbeing of the recipient even though it does not in the short term improve the person’s employment prospects,” she said.
It has led to further calls for such a programme to be trialled in the UK. In July, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the Labour Party was set include a plan for a universal basic income in its next election manifesto.
Ministers have faced repeated criticism over the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, which combines six previous main benefits into one payment.
Its roll-out has been plagued with problems, including reports of claimants being left penniless due to delays in receiving their first payments.
Anthony Painter, director of research and action at social charity the RSA, said the Finnish experiment showed there was a “strong case” for basic income experiments in the UK.
“It would be good to see ‘saturation pilots’ in particular, in which everyone in a specific area receives a basic income,” he said, adding that five places – four of which are in Scotland – have already volunteered to host such a trial.
“The UK government must support the Scottish government’s exploration of a trial and act to establish pilots in the rest of the UK,” he added.