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Study: Over half the population supports basic income scheme

A new study finds that over half of Finns back the idea of an unconditional universal basic income scheme, whereby Finnish citizens would regularly receive a certain sum of money from the government. 

Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

According to a recent survey conducted by the Foundation for Municipal Development, 51 percent of Finnish respondents support the idea of a basic income provided to all citizens of Finland. Just 23 percent indicated their opposition, with the rest undecided. 

The clear majority, 68 percent, believe that a basic income from the government would make it easier to start a business, and would also mitigate the financial difficulties after the fact, if the business failed to succeed. Support for the idea came from all segments of the population, but the most backing came from entrepreneurs, the unemployed and students.

A further 63 percent of respondents were of the opinion that a basic income scheme would dismantle the bureaucracy associated with the current social welfare system. 60 percent said the move would no doubt simplify the current means-tested system of benefits.

Party feuding and disincentive

More than two-thirds of respondents, 69 percent, predict that determining the amount of basic income awarded would become a source of permanent disagreement between the country’s political parties. Every second respondent also feared the egalitarian system would encourage more lethargy among the people. Respondents with this concern were more likely than not to support the populist Finns Party or the centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP).

When analysed by party allegiance, most of the supporters of a basic income tended to adhere to the Left Alliance and Green parties. Respondents that opposed the idea supported the NCP the most.

The survey was conducted by the TNS Gallup polling firm in late November-early December 2015. Over 1,100 respondents participated, making the margin of error three percentage points in either direction.

A pilot project only

Finland’s current government has included exploration of a basic income option in its government programme. France and the Netherlands join Finland in experimenting with basic income pilots in the coming years, and Switzerland is scheduled to hold a referendum on the topic in 2016.

Several international media sources jumped the gun in late 2015, reporting that Finland was boldly introducing a basic income scheme across the board. Finland will actually begin the government-funded experiment in 2017 and preliminary plans suggest targeting a small but statistically significant group.

The government has commissioned Kela, the national social insurance provider, to study the concept, calculate the costs, and run a two-year experiment to judge the feasibility of rolling it out across the country. The results will be evaluated in 2019.

The basic income would roughly be the size of Finland’s current basic assistance intended to cover food, personal hygiene, clothing and other daily expenses (about 600 euros per month in 2016), replacing all minimum social welfare benefits.

It would be granted free of charges and tax-free, and the amount would not diminish as wages increased. The benefit it offers would likely be negated in taxation, however, if the recipient’s salary exceeded a certain level.