This essay was originally published in the USBIG NewsFlash in October 2008.
In January 2008, a Basic Income Grant (BIG) pilot project began in the Otjivero-Omitara area in Namibia. All residents below the age of 60 years receive a Basic Income Grant of 100 Namibian dollars per person per month, without any conditions attached. According to BIEN, the grant is being given to every person registered as living there in July 2007, whatever their social and economic status. This BIG pilot project is designed and implemented by the Namibian Basic Income Grant Coalition (established in 2004) and is the first universal cash-transfer pilot project in the world. The BIG Coalition has just published its first assessment report on the project, which compares the results of a baseline study and a panel survey after the first six months of implementation.
1. The community itself responded to the introduction of the BIG by establishing its own 18-member committee to mobilize the community and advise residents on how they could improve their lives with the money. This suggests that the introduction of a BIG can effectively assist with community mobilisation and empowerment.
2. Since the introduction of the BIG child malnutrition in the settlement has dropped remarkably. Using a WHO measurement technique, the data shows that children’s weight-for-age has improved significantly in just six months from 42% of underweight children to only 17%.
3. Since the introduction of the BIG, the majority of people have been able to increase their work both for pay, profit or family gain as well as self-employment. This finding is contrary to critics’ claims that the BIG would lead to laziness and dependency.
4. Income has risen in the community since the introduction of the BIG by more than the amount of the grants. There is strong evidence that more people are now able to engage in more productive activities and that the BIG fosters local economic growth and development. Several small enterprises started in Otjivero, making use of the BIG money being spent in the community.
5. More than double the number of parents paid school fees and the parents prioritized the buying of school uniforms. More children are now attending school and the stronger financial situation has enabled the school to improve teaching material for the pupils (eg. buying paper and toner). The school principal reported that drop-out rates at her school were 30-40% before the introduction of the BIG. By July 2008, these rates were reduced to a mere 5%.
6. The BIG supports and strengthens Government’s efforts to provide ARV treatment to people suffering from HIV/AIDS by enabling them to access governments services and afford nutrition.
7. The residents have been using the settlement’s health clinic much more since the introduction of the BIG. Residents now pay the N$4 payment for each visit and the income of the clinic has increased fivefold.
8. The criticism that the grants are apparently leading to more alcoholism is not supported by evidence from the community. On the contrary, the introduction of the BIG has induced the community to set up a committee that is trying to curb alcoholism and that has worked with local shebeen [unlicensed tavern] owners not to sell alcohol on the day of the pay-out of the grants.
9. The introduction of the Basic Income Grant has helped young women recipients to take charge of their economic affairs. Several cases document that young women have been freed from having to engage in transactional sex.
10. Economic and poverty-related crime (illegal hunting, theft and trespassing) has fallen by over 20%.
11. The BIG has helped to achieve progress towards all eight Millenium Development Goals.
In brief, according to the report the initial results of this pilot project are very encouraging and by far exceed the expectations of the BIG Coalition. The local community has embraced the pilot project and is engaged in efforts to make it work well. According to BIEN, as commented by one of the community’s residents: “Generally, the BIG has brought life to our place. Everyone can afford food and one does not see any more people coming to beg for food as in the past. What I can say is that people have gained their human dignity and have become responsible.” (Jonas Damaseb, June 2008) Bishop Dr. Z. Kameeta, speaking at the report launch on October 2nd, said: “We, as a Nation, cannot wait to address poverty head on. We cannot wait to implement a universal Basic Income Grant nation wide. This is a challenge for the whole country.”
-Karl Widerquist, Oxford UK, October 2008
Further information about the project is available on www.bignam.org.
Including a video of the presentation of the report at https://www.bignam.org/page4.html.
An article on the report published by “The Namibian” (October 3, 2008) in online at https://allafrica.com/stories/200810030605.html