Is Finland Ending Universal Basic Income? Conflicting Reports Cause Confusion

Finland releases a statement about its high profile UBI experiment.

Unsplash / Annette Fischer

Reports began surfacing in the media earlier this week that Finland was scrapping its much-discussed basic income experiment. The country began paying 2,000 unemployed Finns a basic income of €560 ($678) a month in January of 2017.

Articles this week ran headlines implying that Finland had decided to halt the experiment, implying that it had become unpopular. ”The eagerness of the government is evaporating. They rejected extra funding [for it],” said Olli Kangas, the leader of the research team at Kela (Social Insurance Institution of Finland), told the BBC.

In actual fact, Finland is continuing its basic income plan until the end of 2018, as it had initially planned. Yes, it’s true that it won’t be extended past that date — but there hasn’t been any official word from the Finnish government that the experiment has been a failure. If anything, the government appears to be intent on studying the effects of the two-year program but believe they can only do so after it’s finished.

“The effects of the experiment will not be published while the experiment is in progress, because a public discussion of the results could influence the behaviour of the test and control groups. That would lead to skewed results,” Kangas said in an official Kela statement on Wednesday.

“The experiment is proceeding according to plan and will continue until the end of 2018,” he said. Kela says that the results of the study will be publicly available by the end of 2019, or early 2020.

The experiment is meant to study the well-being of participants and whether a steady flow of a small amount of income will help them propel themselves to a state of economic stability or growth. Participants were selected at random, with the one qualifier being that they were unemployed at the time. The amount they’re given a month won’t be affected by whether or not they find employment over the course of the two years.

“The purpose of the experiment is to study the effect of increasing cash incentives for work and simplifying the social security system on the employment rate of the study participants,” the statement said. Participants will be compared to a control group who didn’t receive a basic income.

It’s true that researchers at Kela had hoped to expand the program, even before it got off the ground, but the funding request was denied. However, saying that the trial is ending because of a failure is also inaccurate.

There are many parts of the world keen on studying the concepts and effects of basic income. Proponents believe its actually a cost efficient way to increase the quality of life and opportunity of the world’s poor by providing for their basic needs, and it can also help those who aren’t able to work. The Canadian province of Ontario has just finished enrolling 4,000 participants in a three-year basic income trial. A single person could qualify if they made $34,000 per year, and can receive up to $16,989 per year, less than 50 percent of any earned income.

GiveDirectly, an American charity, has also launched a massive basic income initiative in Kenya that will give 6,000 people a continual income over 12 years, averaging out to about $20 per month per person.

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