The pilot project which is being carried out in Barcelona – B-MINCOME – combining guaranteed minimum income and active social policies in Barcelona’s deprived urban areas– published a report, on July 2019, with the results of its first operational year (2017-2018). The experiment, which began in October 2017 and is due by the end of 2019, aims to reduce poverty and social exclusion in highly vulnerable groups. During these 24 months, and based on a Randomised Control Trial model, 1000 households (randomly) selected from three of the city’s poorest districts (Nou Barris, Sant Andreu and Sant Martí) have been receiving a maximum cash transfer of €1675 a month. Of these 1000 households, 550 have also taken part in four active-inclusion policies which the project has set up: one for training and employment; one of fostering entrepreneurship in the social, solidarity and cooperative economy; one with grants for refurbishing flats in order to rent out rooms; and one involving community participation.

What makes this project so innovative is that it combines four modes of participation: Conditional (people randomly assigned to an active policy are obliged to take part in it), Unconditional (participation in these policies is not a condition for receiving the income), Limited (any additional income that might be obtained proportionally reduces the amount of the cash transfer) and Non-limited (where this additional income does not reduce the amount of the transfer).

Apart from reducing poverty and fostering personal autonomy, the B-MINCOME’s overall objective is to test which modality of income transfer is the most effective (concerning results) and the most efficient (concerning implementation costs). This experiment or pilot project is, therefore, an initial step towards implementing a municipal income-transfer system which should be consolidated in the near future.

In line with the results obtained in similar experiments, such as the one in Manitoba during the 1970s, the Finish one, the one suddenly cancelled in Ontario and those that are now coming to a close in various Dutch cities, such as Utrecht, the report now published by the Barcelona City Council shows very positive quantitative results. For example, an 11% average increase in general well-being and a 1,4% increase in economic well-being. It also shows an 8% reduction in the severe material privation index, and a reduction of up to 18% in ‘worrying about not having enough food’. It is also worth noting the 3% average reduction in the need to get money through means other than employment (e.g. by renting out rooms, a problem that especially affects the city of Barcelona) or the decreasing trend in developing mental illnesses and an improved quality of sleep, by 10% and 1% respectively – two results associated with a reduction in the financial stress suffered by these families. Furthermore, the qualitative and ethnographic evaluation of the project also reveals positive impacts, such as an increase of nearly 28% in happiness and general satisfaction with life, as well as a significant increase in engagement with and participation in neighbourhood and community life.

However, the report does not detect statistically significant changes in housing insecurity or in the households’ ability to cope with unexpected expenses (although this cash-transfer is not designed to make savings possible but only to meet basic expenses). Furthermore, no significant results have been observed regarding work placement or in other dimensions related to employment. However, it should be noted that this result was expected and is in line with other similar experiments, which also confirms the initial hypothesis: people in the Conditioned modality experienced a “lock-in effect”, as their (compulsory) participation in the active policies may have meant they had less time to look for work. However, it should be noted that most participants were suffering from a high degree of exclusion or job precariousness prior to the start of the project. It was, therefore, unrealistic to expect ambitious results in this sense.

The referred report only contains results obtained during the first year of the project, and hence the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the project can only be definitively evaluated in early 2020.

Given the recipients’ highly vulnerable profile, and the fact that these results come from a single year of (the pilot’s) implementation, there are motives for optimism. Final results are expected to be more significant and consistent from a statistical perspective, plus even more encouraging from a substantive point of view, i.e. in improving beneficiaries’ quality of life, increasing their freedom and autonomy and reducing their dependence on other public subsidies.

Written by Bru Laín ( Affiliate professor of Sociology (University of Barcelona), researcher at the B-MINCOME project and Secretary of the Spanish Basic Income Network

Reviewed by André Coelho