The Finnish government has just taken a first step towards delivering on its promise to implement a basic income pilot during its term in office.

After committing itself to conducting a basic income pilot in Finland the Finnish government is putting words into action. Formed after the general election last Spring the new government of Finland led by the Centrist party announced in September the allocation of a grant to a group of researchers from the Finnish social security and pension department (KELA).

The group also includes researchers from the University of Tampere, the influential Institute for Economic Research and the independent think tank Tänk, which previously published its own proposal for a basic income pilot project. This working group is now in charge of designing parameters for the pilot project, which should be delivered by 2016.

Otto Lehto, President of BIEN-Finland told Basic Income News this week, “We welcome the creation of this working group and are happy that KELA, Tänk and researchers from the University of Tampere are involved in it. They are authoritative organisations with people that actually understand what basic income means.”

Strong and persistent popular support for basic income

KELA has already started to work on the topic of basic income with a series of articles and studies. In September, it conducted an opinion poll which showed 70% of Finns in favour of basic income, confirming the strong popular support witnessed in similar polls in 2002 and earlier this year. The poll also revealed that most people think a good level of basic income would be about 1000 euros a month.

The publication of KELA’s Annual Report provoked a debate in the Finnish Parliament about basic income, where even skeptics and opponents thought it would be a good idea to organise a pilot study.

This resonates with an editorial published on October 11 in the influential newspaper ‘Helsingin Sanomat’ which argued that “the basic income pilot study is a good idea” while carefully stressing the need for a pilot programme. The editorial also said that whatever difficulties basic income might have, it is important to study its effects, and that the Finnish welfare system is in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

The pilot should start in 2017

Despite a push by one member of the Center Party Jouni Ovaska, to start the pilot project by 2016, the two ministers responsible for the project, Hanna Mäntylä (True Finns party) and Anu Vehviläinen (Centre Party) stressed that the experiment should not be conducted hastily since nobody wants a badly executed study. The pilot program should therefore not start before 2017.

BIEN-Finland fully shares the government’s concerns. “A pilot project organised without sufficient planning and on a low budget would not be scientifically significant,” stressed Mr Lehto.

“The worst option would be a geographical study that takes place in one location only, since it would be susceptible to uncontrollable local variables. Ideally, we would want to study the effects of basic income on a wide variety of people in different circumstances and different locations. This means either having a proper randomized trial across the whole population, geographically dispersed across the whole country (as suggested by the Tänk/Sitra study last winter); or a regional pilot involving many different locations with different sociological, economic and demographic profiles.”

Mr Lehto concluded, “We put our hopes in the KELA-led team to produce a good plan that actually helps moves forward the discussion on basic income.”

Credit Picture © Finnish Parliament