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All Points North #31: Marjukka Turunen and Risto E.J. Penttilä assess Finland's basic income trial

Could a no-strings-attached monthly payment be a viable alternative to the current benefits jungle? We took a look at Finland's basic income trial.

Audio: Yle News

This week APN discussed Finland's two-year basic income trial, which will wrap up at the end of the year. Our guests were Marjukka Turunen from the state benefits agency Kela, and Risto E.J. Penttilä, head of the Nordic West Office think tank. We also heard from Juha Järvinen, a well-known participant in the pilot.

In the trial, 2,000 randomly-selected unemployed jobseekers in Finland received 560 euros, tax-free, every month from the state. The aim was to see whether Finland's labyrinthine system of benefits could be re-designed to deal with a changing economy, where full-time permanent jobs appear to be becoming a thing of the past.

Think tank boss Penttilä said that the idea of a standard monthly payment is a good solution for dealing with the emerging gig economy, where people often juggle several part-time temporary jobs. Penttilä proposed a negative income tax, where people earning below a certain level would receive a subsidy instead of paying taxes. However once workers pass the designated income threshold, they would pay taxes at the stipulated rates. He commented that no one in Sweden is talking about a basic income because they have enacted radical changes making it easier for businesses to hire and fire people, for example.

Kela representative Turunen said she was happy to hear the upbeat status report from trial participant Juha Järvinen, who told All Points North that the basic income relieved the stress of dealing with the unemployment office and that entrepreneurial endeavours he launched during the trial will give him "work for the rest of his life". She admitted that the current system of 43 different kinds of benefits is too hard to navigate and must be simplified.

Turunen used the words of her Kela colleague, Turku University professor and Kela research chief Olli Kangas, to say that the experiment should already be considered a success. She said it's because Finland is now asking the right questions, like how to streamline its sprawling benefits system and properly incentivise people to actively look for work.

"Rake news" dominates headlines

Next in the podcast we looked at the top three stories among our audience through the week. Social media lit up last Sunday after US President Donald Trump’s comment that wildfire-devastated California should do more 'forest floor raking like Finland.' Trump attributed the advice to Finland's President Sauli Niinistö, who later denied mentioning raking during their talk.

Our story on the shrinking birth rate in Finland also gained a lot of attention, as the country comes to terms with the prospect of a shrinking working age population. Statistics Finland said that immigration is the only answer if Finnish residents don't start having more babies.

The third-most popular story this week was a weather item: namely, that this November has been the greyest one on record since 2000. As of last Saturday when we ran the story, a weather station at the Helsinki Airport had recorded just shy of five hours of sunshine in the gloom.

If you have any questions, or would like to share something on your mind, just contact us via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter account, or at yle.news@yle.fi.

The All Points North podcast is a weekly look at what's going on in Finland. Subscribe via iTunes (and leave a review!), listen on Spotify and Yle Areena or find it on your favourite podcatching app or via our RSS feed.

This week's show was presented by Denise Wall and Mark B. Odom with guests Marjukka Turunen and Risto E.J. Pentilä. The show's producer was Pamela Kaskinen and our sound technician was Jami Auvinen .

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