Finland’s basic income experiment shows it could work in Scotland – Jamie Cooke

Providing unemployed people with an unconditional basic income in Finland did not lead to a fall in the number finding work among other positive signs that should encourage those hoping to introduce the system in Scotland, writes Jamie Cooke.
People in Scotland who want to introduce a basic income are watching an experiment in Finland closelyPeople in Scotland who want to introduce a basic income are watching an experiment in Finland closely
People in Scotland who want to introduce a basic income are watching an experiment in Finland closely

The Basic Income experiment in Finland, where 2,000 unemployed people had their benefit changed to an unconditional one, has been one of the most closely watched pieces of social experimentation in the world.

Global media coverage, widespread misreporting, interest from basic income advocates – the experiment has had it all. Following its conclusion at the end of 2018, we have been waiting to see what initial results would show, and if they could offer learning for our own discussions here in Scotland.

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Well, the (preliminary) results are out – and they make for pleasant and interesting reading if you are open to the idea of basic income.

There was no difference in the levels of employment achieved by participants in comparison to the test group – this contrasts with the oft-repeated claim that a basic income would make people lazy and less likely to seek work.

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Participants perceived their well-being to be better at the end of the experiment, and demonstrated fewer stress indicators than the other group. And crucially, those receiving basic income had a more positive view of their future and a more positive view of others and society – basic income had helped to increase hope and trust.

These results are only the very first, and we won’t be able to draw robust conclusions until next year when the analysis is completed – it would therefore be inappropriate to get too excited about what those might be at this point.

However, the idea that by placing trust in our fellow citizens we encourage them to pay that trust forward, sits very well with what I would expect to see from an empowering, supportive basic income.

One of the key reasons I support the idea of testing basic income in Scotland is precisely because I believe it could be the foundation to a renewed social contract. Our current system is one rooted in suspicion, sanctions and stigma – it is not surprising in the slightest that those kind of negative (and counter-productive) attitudes tarnish the rest of our social interactions, and fuel the rise of disconnect and anger that we have seen.

Our friends from Finland have shown in these early results that an alternative vision is a very real possibility – we just need the right policy.

What they prove, even at this early stage, is that we are doing the right thing in trying to develop basic income experiments in Scotland, to test the impact that the policy in our own, different, social and political context.

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Last night in Fife, we at the RSA met with a group of local residents to discuss social security – I was struck by how much their experiences with the current system, and hopes for basic income, resonated with the preliminary results from Finland.

I believe that when we try out basic income for ourselves, we too will find that we can redevelop our trust in each other.

Jamie Cooke is head of RSA Scotland. @JamieACooke