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After 'Encouraging' Results From Finnish UBI Experiment, Experts Say It's Time For Such A Bold Idea

"If there isn't a minimum income floor to fall back on when this kind of massive shock hits, people literally have no options."

by Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Lorrine Paradela poses for a photograph in Stockton, California on February 7, 2020. Paradela, a 45-year-old single mother, is one of the 125 Stockton residents receiving monthly cash disbursements. The scoffed-at idea of paying everyone a basic income as machines take people's jobs is getting a fresh look as a possible remedy for economies cratered by the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Nick Otto/AFP via Getty Images)

As Finland's universal basic income experiment produces positive outcomes, a senior United Nations official is making the case that the global economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis is reason to include such a payment policy as a "a central part of the fiscal stimulus packages that countries are planning for."

The Finnish government on Wednesday released its evaluation of the two-year experiment in which 2,000 randomly selected unemployed people were paid 560 euros per month. The researchers summed up results as "small employment effects, better perceived economic security and mental well-being."

Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, shared the findings on social media. A video summary from the agency says that in a post-experiment survey, participants in the experiment said they "had fewer health issues, fewer experiences with bureaucracy, and better financial well-being than the people in the control group. They experience fewer issues related to mental stress, depression, melancholy, and loneliness. They also estimated that their functional ability was better."

The UBI recipients also "felt that their financial situation and their ability to influence it was better. Their trust in other people and different institutions was higher, and they were more confident in their own future and their ability to influence societal issues."

Nick Hartley, a clinical psychologist in the U.K., called the results "encouraging" and "just what we would expect to see."

There were "significant benefits for mental health as people are able to find meaningful work without the threat of being left with no means to put food on the table," he tweeted.

One lawmaker outside of Finland recently pushing forth the payment scheme is Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who pointed to its need in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

"The experience of the virus and the economic consequences of that have made me much, much more strongly of the view that it is an idea that's time has come," Sturgeon said Tuesday at a press briefing in Edinburgh.

Kanni Wignaraja, who heads the U.N. Development Programme's (UNDP) Asia-Pacific bureau, similarly said the pandemic lays the groundwork for "bolder ideas."

"The spread of Covid-19 has fundamentally shaken economies, and people are beginning to question existing economic models: this pandemic has really thrown up the existing levels of both injustice and inequality worldwide," she told UN News. "So bolder ideas are needed, including some, that previously, were pushed aside."

"At the U.N.," she continued, "we're saying that, if there isn't a minimum income floor to fall back on when this kind of massive shock hits, people literally have no options. Without the means to sustain themselves, they are far more likely to succumb to hunger or other diseases, well before Covid-19 gets to them."

CNBC reported last month on how UBI appears to be gaining traction amid the global pandemic:

Guy Standing, a research professor in development studies at SOAS, University of London, told CNBC via telephone that there was no prospect of a global economic revival without a universal basic income.

Standing, who has been an advocate for a universal basic income for more than three decades, said he believed the coronavirus crisis would be "the trigger" for a basic wage.

"It's almost a no-brainer," he said. "We are going to have some sort of basic income system sooner or later, but I think getting the establishments of many countries to do it is like pulling the proverbial tooth. There’s a big institutional resistance to it because of the implications of moving in this direction."

Anthony Painter, director of the social justice advocacy group RSA Center for Action and Research, said that UBI can help workers currently facing a choice between their jobs and their lives.

"The coronavirus has revealed weaknesses in ensuring economic security across Europe," Painter told Euronews. "Workers face an intolerable choice between their work, their families, and their health. With universal basic income they know that they are not going to bite the dust, there will always be a network that will help lighten these conflicts."

Writer and UBI advocate Scott Santens said the policy "has never been more important than right now."

Sharing the results of the Finnish experiment on Wednesday, Santens expressed frustration the that U.S.—where over 30 million people have lost their jobs in recent weeks—hasn't adopted the policy.

"UBI will save lives AND our economy," he wrote.

Legislation put forth last month by Democratic Resp. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) could kickstart that effort. Their ABC Act would provide people in the U.S. with $2,000 per month during the crisis, followed by $1,000 per month for a year afterwards.

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