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Finland's basic income experiment gives people money for being alive

The $600 they receive each month might not be much, but it's enough to put some people's anxiety at ease.

People seen at a park in Helsinki, Finland. Picture: pixabay.com

Four months after Finland's social security institution Kela launched a two-year experiment in basic income, a system of wealth distribution in which people receive a salary just for being alive, some of the 2,000 recipients are already reporting lower levels of stress.

The $600 they receive each month might not be much, but it's enough to put some people's anxiety at ease, Marjukka Turunen, head of Kela's legal benefits unit, told Kera News.

"There was this one woman who said: 'I was afraid every time the phone would ring, that unemployment services are calling to offer me a job,'" Turunen recalled of a woman who needed to care for her parents, and so couldn't work.

Basic income is foremost a solution to poverty. Advocates say the system gives poor people exactly what they lack: cash. It puts money in their pocket to fix a leaky roof, buy a car to get to work or save up for emergency funds. It's not enough to live on, but it prevents people from slipping through the cracks.

With that financial security comes additional benefits, says Scott Santens, a basic income advocate and writer.

Santens has been receiving a basic income for the last couple years from the crowdfunding site Patreon. He says basic income redistributes power into the middle-class — namely, to turn down unappealing jobs — and promotes trust.

Basic income "says everyone should be given a minimum amount of trust because the way we currently use pieces of paper to measure and distribute trust is fatally flawed without it," he says, offering the example of supermarkets being full of food while millions of hungry people can't access it. "Everyone is worth enough trust to enable their basic survival."

Finland's programme is a modified version of basic income since most advocates claim the system must be unconditional. Finns had to have been unemployed when they applied in 2016 to receive the benefits.

However, if they happened to have found a job after applying or after the experiment started, they will continue to receive the $600 each month.

Turunen emphasises that Kela won't provide any formal data on the trial's effectiveness until 2018. The participants who speak to the press may not represent the entire pool of recipients, she told Basic Income Earth Network. "The results must be very carefully analysed according to the information we only get at the end of next year."

Turunen has expressed high hopes for the trial. Experiments in Kenya and elsewhere have shown basic income can work on a small scale. As she told Business Insider in January, however, the long-term data still doesn't exist.

"Some people might stay on their couches, and some might go to work," she says. "We don't know yet."

If there are couch potatoes, they at least seem to be relaxed.

Written by Chris Weller, the ideas reporter for Business the Insider.

This article was republished courtesy of the World Economic Forum.

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