Finland rolls out its universal basic income scheme to 2,000 citizens

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

As technology replaces and automates more jobs governments are experimenting with universal basic incomes as a means to keep people out of poverty, now Finland has taken the plunge.

 

It’s January 2017, and as promised, Finlands government is now rolling out it’s ambitious Universal Basic Income (UBI) program to over 2,000 people who will receive free money for two years, as the government watches, analyses and assesses the implications that the new program has on peoples behaviours, the community, and the existing welfare system. The program follows int he footsteps of other notables such as Canada, who will also roll out a program this year and Holland, Japan, Scotland, the UK and USA who are all currently voting, or mulling it over.

 

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Lasting until 2019, the Finlands social security institution Kela will distribute roughly $590 tax free each month to 2,000 jobless Finns and, regardless of whether they find work during that period, or not, the money will keep coming in at the beginning of each month.

Under the UBI scheme individuals will receive a standard income just for being alive and it’s hoped that by handing out money in this way societies might be able to first and foremost prevent people from falling through the cracks and into poverty, but secondly, and perhaps as equally important provide individuals with a safety net, when and if the predictions that over 45% of all of todays jobs will disappear as they’re taken by automation and machines.

The added bonus of the scheme though, which is more unique to Finland than anywhere else, is that Finlands current social welfare system is messy so the leading proponents of the project, such as Marjukka Turunen, head of Kela’s legal benefits unit, hope that it might also help simplify the current system – which comprises of over 40 different benefit systems with each benefit, whether it’s for someone who’s sick, unemployed, a student, elderly and so on – being calculated differently and then being changed every time an individuals circumstances change.

“That’s really a burden for customers and Kela to do all those status changes,” said Turunen.

 

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A form of UBI could mean people just need to apply for one status indefinitely, no changes required. The experiment will also provide clues about how people behave when they’re receiving free money – understandably many skeptics think that it will encourage people to sit on the sofa all day and watch Netflix but supporters believe that people will use the money to make their lives better, and perhaps even start businesses.

Turunen, for her part, expects basic income to continue gaining in popularity if the data from those experiments keeps coming back positive.

“Some people might stay on their couches, and some might go to work,” she says, “we don’t know yet.”

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