Basic income is an idea whose time has come
There are powerful social movements all over the world that are campaigning for basic income. Most activists are pushing for schemes to be run by their national governments, often in place of existing social security systems, and funded by general taxation. There have been a number of highly successful pilot schemes, and there are more just getting started. Some campaigns are starting to bear fruit politically, with national governments considering the proposals, and referendums being held. The idea of basic income is gaining in popularity all over the world.
Brazil passed the Citizen's Basic Income law in 2004, committing the government to introduce basic income, first to the poorest and later to everyone. The country's major Bolsa Familia cash transfer programme, introduced around the same time, provides cash to low-income families, but this has not yet been scaled up to a universal basic income. A number of pilots have demonstrated the benefits, including a £7.80 basic income in the village of Quatinga Velho since 2008 by a Brazilian group called ReCivitas, and a £2.50 municipal basic income paid in local currency in the town of Marica.
Since 2008, a basic income pilot has run in Otjivero in Namibia, providing around £5 per person per month. Rates of poverty and malnutrition have plummeted, while school attendance, employment and community cohesion have increased. A strong grassroots movement for basic income has developed, led by labour and church organisations. In 2015, the chair of the Basic Income Grant Coalition was appointed as Minister for poverty eradication and social security, raising hopes that basic income could be adopted nationally.
In June 2016, Switzerland held a national referendum to decide whether to implement a basic income sufficient to live a dignified life, suggested to be around £1,750 per person per month. Although on this occasion the proposal was defeated, with 23% voting Yes, the referendum generated extensive worldwide media coverage and policy analysis, and has helped to significantly raise awareness of basic income among the general population.
Manitoba province, Canada, hosted an early basic income experiment called Mincome in the 1970s. A 2011 analysis showed that while the basic income was provided, hospital admissions dropped 8.5% and demand on mental health services was reduced. This has bolstered more recent support, with basic income pilot schemes in the pipeline for Ontario and Quebec, and other areas expressing a strong interest. The ruling Liberal Party recently passed a motion committing to support basic income.
Four municipalities in The Netherlands are working with the national government to gain permission to experiment with their social security systems and explore variations that would be similar to basic income. In January 2016 a member of the Liberal Party issued a proposal to the Lower House of Parliament to begin discussions of a national basic income. The government is formulating a response.
In 2011 to 2013 a basic income of £2-3 a month was provided in parts of Madhya Pradesh, India. Villagers chose to spend the money on building latrines, buying essential medicines, and on investments like livestock and sewing machines. The unconditional nature of the scheme cut opportunities for funds to be diverted by intermediaries and ensured even the poorest were reached. In 2016 the success of the scheme was picked up by an Indian NGO, who propose the introduction of a citizens' dividend funded by the income from mining, and Government of India are showing a growing interest.
In November 2015, the Finnish government announced its intention to run major experiments in basic income. Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, has researched options and proposed experiments in large sample groups and whole regions, with basic income replacing certain social security benefits. The experiments are due to begin in 2017 and run for two years. A poll in January 2016 found that over half of Finnish citizens supported the idea of a basic income, while less than a quarter actively opposed it.
In 2016, a small scale pilot scheme is being expanded into a much larger basic income experiment to be run in a number of Kenyan villages by the non-profit organisation GiveDirectly. The scheme will distribute around US$30million, with at least some of the villages receiving an amount per person sufficient to cover basic needs. Outcomes will be studied to understand the impact of the basic income on standard of living, employment, business start-ups, leisure, gender relations and more.
Basic income has been debated several times in the French Senate, and in May 2016 a Green Party Senator tabled a draft resolution calling for the government to 'take the necessary steps to introduce a basic income'. This prompted a positive debate, and although the motion was voted down, a cross-party parliamentary commission of 27 Senators has been formed to examine the potential for basic income. The commission will report back in autumn 2016.
In the urban village of Huaidi, China, local people pooled the compensation they received in the late 1990s when local government built on parts of their farmland. With the pooled money they bought local assets, and use the proceeds to fund social services and benefits including a basic income of around £14.50 per person per month. When introduced in 1996, this was around 30% of the average income, although it has fallen to 3% due to income growth. It is reported that the basic income gives people more freedom and helps prevent social ills.
These real-life political possibilities for- and experiments with basic income are the result of many years of campaigning by basic income activists. Many more countries have growing social movements that are popularising the idea. The Basic Income Earth Network, an umbrella organisation for the movement, recognises active campaign groups in 23 countries from Japan to Mexico, and reports on activities in many more. Across the world, hundreds of newspaper articles, blog posts, petitions and events are highlighting the potential of basic income as a solution to many social, economic and environmental problems, and its potential to improve our quality of life.
The emerging movement for a worldwide basic income hopes to build on the dedicated work of those who advocate for national basic income schemes like those described above.
There are already organisations in a number of countries that are campaigning for a world basic income. As well as this organisation, World Basic Income (which is based in the UK), there are growing groups in The Netherlands, South Korea and Germany. These groups collaborate through the Global Basic Income Network to share ideas and research, and to work together on international campaigns.