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Watch: One year down, one to go: A view on Finland's basic income experiment

Finland's basic income trial has been criticised for its small scale and narrow target audience. Participant Juha Järvinen says it encourages people to give something back to society.

Juha Järvinen was one of 2,000 unemployed people in Finland randomly chosen to receive 560 tax-free euros per month with no strings attached in early 2017. The two-year trial is testing the results of a universal basic income in the face of stubborn long-term unemployment. Yle caught up with him to see how the first year has gone.

"This has been a super interesting year for me. It has pretty much been spent giving interviews. I've done close to 300. No one from Africa has approached me yet, but almost the entire rest of the world has been interested," says Järvinen.

Before he was accepted to the programme, he had been collecting unemployment benefits from the Finnish state for five years. Even though the 560 euros is actually less than the combined benefits he used to receive, he says it still suits him better to not have to be dealing with the employment office. He and his nurse wife have six children.

"I have to say that running a big family and keeping up a big house creates day-to-day work that takes up most of my time," he says.

Business ideas on the front burner

Järvinen launched a video production company last summer that is now getting up to speed, and he is also in talks with some of his colleagues about starting an "Art bed and breakfast" in his western town of Kurikka.

"We thought it would be a fantastic concept for many people who want to go on holiday and at the same time join in some artistic activities. They could receive some instruction on painting, sculpting or video production. We've already got good surroundings for that: nature and dedicated studios where people can work," he says.

Järvinen says that he believes that by the time the basic income experiment ends next year, his business will already be standing on its own feet.

Story continues after photo.

Juha Järvinen, Aamos Järvinen ja Usva-koira.
Juha Järvinen has become the global face of Finland's basic income trial. Image: Janne Lindroos / Yle

Criticism for lack of expansion

He is disappointed however that Finland's trial wasn't expanded to other groups, and only targeted the unemployed. He says good additional candidates would have been freelancers, artists and micro-business owners.

"If the government wants to send a message, it should be a positive one and encourage an optimistic outlook. Something like: "Starting your own business is worth it" or "Trying out new things works out in the end".

Järvinen responds to critics of basic income that argue that the monthly payment will make people lazy.

"One of the questions we are trying to work out with this basic income thing is how many of us are going to end up lying on the sofa. I don't personally believe that many will do that because if people feel that someone cares, we automatically strive to give something back to society," he says.

Years ago, he ran his own one-man company manufacturing decorative window frames, but then he burned out and his business went bust.

"For me, [the basic income] made me feel like I regained my agency as a Finnish citizen. It wasn't easy after I had gone through a bankruptcy and lost my borrowing privileges," he says.

Making a little last a long while

Things are still very tight for his family.

"Our standard of living hasn't improved. We still live very frugally. Our eight-person household has to make ends meet with about 3,000 euros per month in net income. I have to admit it is sometimes a matter of surviving. I tip my hat to the [Evangelical Lutheran] Church in Finland, especially their deacons, as they provide help with the food," he says.

"I try to keep our expenses to a minimum and we have received a huge amount of donated clothes, so we haven't had to buy things. I would say that 95 percent of the clothing our family uses has been donated or bought at flea markets," he continues.

But Järvinen maintains that he isn't bothered about pinching pennies too much because he is grateful for all the non-monetary blessings in his life.

"It is really so much about your perspective. I personally feel as if I were truly rich. We have a really broad network of social contacts and friends, and I don't really ask for more in life. I enjoy my life and consider myself very happy. You can probably see it our kids, too - a certain kind of light-heartedness."

'Active model' will cause resentment

Järvinen also has something to say about the Finnish government's new plan to start penalizing jobseekers that can't prove they have done regular work or training, a new development that has taken the spotlight from the basic income trial in recent months.

"In my opinion, the "active model" is a quick fix devised by some engineer and quarterly-minded finance person – if you'll allow me use a sweeping statement. It might clean up the statistics next year, but its effects will be seen years into the future as social problems," Järvinen says.

"As a father, I would compare it to yelling at my kids to clean their room: Sure, it might lead to results, but at the same time it sparks reluctance and bitterness."

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