The Scandinavian country carried out a two-year trial of universal basic income and there is immense international interest in the recently released findings.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on February 18, 2019

The participants in Finland’s trial were randomly selected among people who did not have jobs. They received about €560 (US$632) each month for two years. The payments were not taxed and continued whether or not they found work.

Finland was the first country to implement a national, government-backed test run of universal basic income, an idea which is quickly gaining support. The scheme was implemented by Kela, the nation’s social insurance institution.

The participants in the Finland trial were happier, but not significantly better off in terms of employment

Finland’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Pirkko Mattila, said the impact the scheme had on employment “seems to have been minor”.

The participants in the trial, the largest attempt to implement universal basic income to date, did report higher levels of general wellbeing and happiness as well as lower stress.

The trial’s Chief Researcher Olli Kangas confirmed the participants “reported better wellbeing in every way in comparison with the comparison group.”

Lead Researcher Minna Ylikännö said the results of the trial echoed previous, smaller experiments on universal basic income that had been conducted in other countries. “People’s wellbeing is enhanced when they have some kind of financial security,” she said. “They feel secure, so they feel better.”

An unexpected result from the experiment was that participants found that there was less bureaucracy involved in getting the payment. They reported higher levels of trust in the government and institutions.

Universal basic income has moved from a fringe idea into the mainstream

Business leaders such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg have all offered qualified support for universal basic income. Many commentators feel such a scheme will increasingly become necessary as AI and automation wipe out existing jobs.

There is also some evidence of growing grassroots support for the idea. A 2018 poll in the UK found 40% of respondents support the idea of a universal basic income and would welcome trials of the idea in their local area.

The UK Labour party is expected to include a trial of the concept in its next election manifesto. Democratic candidate Andrew Yang is campaigning on the idea of implementing a universal basic income across the US. He has proposed giving each citizen US$1,000 a month with no strings attached.

Writing in The Independent, Hamish McRae argued that the main takeaway from the trial should be the potential to test social policy ideas internationally and for countries to share ideas and findings. Social policy trials could be shared internationally in much the same way trials for medicines are, McRae says.

Luke O’Malley, a Professor at Bath University, said the Finnish trial was important in providing significant new empirical evidence on the idea, which is increasingly figuring in debates over the future of employment and social policy.