The Netherlands: Largest trade union makes an important step towards a basic income

The Netherlands: Largest trade union makes an important step towards a basic income

The largest trade union in The Netherlands with over one million members, FNV (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging / Federation of Dutch Trade Unions), held a conference on May 10-11 at Sport Business Centre Papendal to discuss its policy plan for the years 2017-2021.
The policy is based on the experiences, opinions and observations of the members, non-members and experts of the organization. During a comprehensive consultation phase, each member had the opportunity to identify the most important topics which should be included in FNV’s conceptual policy plan for 2017-2021. A preliminary summary of the most important subjects was published in a separate draft resolution that was discussed by the Congress of the FNV on May 10. Despite several attempts to amend the draft resolution, the board of the FNV turned down all the proposals that went beyond the statement that “The FNV will investigate a basic income in the coming period and will start a discussion about it.”

However, on the 11th of May, during debates with members of FNV’s parliament and especially with the sector beneficiaries therein, this announcement was replaced by a more powerful and far-reaching text stating that

The basic income is an interesting option, especially in the way it is formulated by FNV Sector Beneficiaries. The FNV therefore proposes to start investigations and experiments in a practice-oriented manner based on the recommendations of FNV Sector Beneficiaries. As a result of this, FNV will decide whether a basic income can become one of the instruments that can equally share work, income and capital.

A ‘basic income’ as formulated by FNV Sector Beneficiaries is

  • an amount that is comparable to the Dutch state retirement pension (AOW) in which a couple receives less than a single person;
  • for anyone who has legally lived in The Netherlands during 18 years;
  • income from paid employment will not be set off with the basic income;
  • current allowances such as rent and care benefits continue to exist;
  • unemployment and disability insurance also remains for that part of the income that comes from paid work.

“Due to the hard work and non-stop pressure of the section of welfare recipients among FNV’s members, they now have negotiated a much better outlook for the introduction of a real basic income in the long run,” says Johan Horeman, “A huge step is set in the right direction.”

The adoption of the amendment was made possible by the driving forces Willem Banning and Harrie Ortmans, board members of FNV Sector Beneficiaries and Johan Horeman, advisor of the board.

Thanks to Ad Planken and Dave Clegg for reviewing this article.

Credit Picture CC Terence Faircloth

NETHERLANDS: 58,800 people sign petition calling for a parliamentary debate on basic income

NETHERLANDS: 58,800 people sign petition calling for a parliamentary debate on basic income

A citizens’ initiative for the introduction of a basic income in the Netherlands in 2018 recently handed over a petition containing 58,800 signatures calling for a debate in the Parliament. The signatories are advocates of a guaranteed income of approximately 1000 EUR per month for all adults, plus basic health insurance and an extra payment for children under the age of 18 years. The supporters say that a basic income will allow everyone more freedom to decide whether to work, study, start a company or, for example, take care of elderly family members, instead of being stuck in a hated job to provide for their families. The citizens’ initiative has collected 58,800 signatures, significantly more than the 40,000 needed to place a controversial issue on the agenda of the Parliament.

The paper invitation to sign the petition was spread as a ‘Civil Relief Assessment Notice’, similar to an assessment notice directed to all Dutch taxpayers. According to Johan Luijendijk, one of the initiators of the citizens’ initiative and co-organizer of Basicincome2018, an informal digital platform for sharing information on basic income and the exchange of experiences, the threshold of 40,000 signatures was already met in April: “This happened so fast that we adjusted our ambitions to 100,000. But the growth slowed down, so if we continue at this rate, we will not achieve our goal soon.” He believes that the general public is still unfamiliar with the subject and that the relatively small circle of proponents has been reached: “I suppose that many people still have ’cold feet’ to endorse the rather radical idea of a unconditional basic income”, he says. Hence, it was decided to submit the initiative this week.

After the presentation of the petition to Members of Parliament, the signatures will be counted and validated. The whole process can be completed in about a month, according to RTL. It is also checked whether this is a topic parliament hasn’t dealt with recently. Last September, members of the Second Chamber of Parliament (House of Representatives) discussed with the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Lodewijk Asscher (Partij van de Arbeid / PvdA / Labour Party) a memorandum initiated by Norbert Klein, leader of the Vrijzinnige Partij (Cultural Liberal Party) wherein he advocates the introduction of a basic income. However, the MPs have postponed the voting procedure, so there is a chance that Parliament is obliged to consider the current initiative. If a majority is in favor of the proposal, the responsible minister will be asked to change his or her policy towards a basic income.

At present, the basic income movement has to transfer its focus to the upcoming elections for new members of the House of Representatives in March 2017. Political parties are now making their programmes. So far, only a few of them (Party for the Animals with 2 seats in Parliament; Cultural Liberal Party with 1 seat; Pirate Party no seats) have explicitly included a guaranteed income in their programmes for the next four year. Intensive debates will take place with GroenLinks (GreenLeft), PvdA (Labour Party), D66 (Democrats 66), SP (Socialist Party) and the minority of proponents in VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) and CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) in order to persuade these political parties to adopt an unconditional basic income as an indispensable part of their political ambitions (according to an email communication with Alexander de Roo, the chairman of the Dutch branch of BIEN). “We are also planning to intensify our lobby towards entrepreneurs. We want them to speak openly about the benefits and necessity of the introduction of a universal basic income.”

Thanks to Ali Özgür Abalı for reviewing a draft of this article.

Credit Picture ‘Public debate on basic income‘ CC Zeptonn

Credit Pictures’ Civil Relief Assessment NoticeVerlichtingsdienst

NETHERLANDS: Design of BI Experiments Proposed

NETHERLANDS: Design of BI Experiments Proposed

The Dutch State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment has sent a document to Members of Parliament proposing a basic income experiment. However, the proposed design has met criticism from many scientists, activists, and others instrumental in the original development of the experiment. 

Jetta Klijnsma CC Roel Wijnants

Jetta Klijnsma CC Roel Wijnants

On the last Friday of September 2016, the Dutch government decided to allow basic income experiments on a limited scale and under strict conditions. Mrs. Jetta Klijnsma, State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment, has sent a document Ontwerpbesluit Experimenten Participatiewet (Design for Experiments in the context of the Participation Act) to the Members of Parliament in which she outlines the rules, conditions and goals of the forthcoming basic income experiments. Mrs. Klijnsma, (PvdA, Partij van de Arbeid / Labour Party) is optimistic. As soon as both Chambers of Parliament accept the proposed framework, she can give permission to start with the experiments–hopefully, January 1st 2017.

However, many of the pioneers involved in the experiments (including scientists, activists, city counsel members, local councilors, and civil servants) are less excited. In order to overcome political arguments–mainly coming from the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), a right-wing party that hates the idea of a basic income–the original study design has been changed in such a way that these stakeholders worry about the consequences for the pilots.

Proposed Design of the Dutch Basic Income Pilot

Before we return to their concerns, let’s look at the design of the experiment in more detail.

The research questions as they are now formulated are:

• Does the intervention in the research groups lead to acceptance of paid labor?

• Which intervention causes the most complete independence of social assistance benefit?

A maximum of 25 municipalities, or 4% of the total number of Dutch welfare claimants, will be allowed to participate in the experiments. According to Statline (Electronic Databank of Statistics Netherlands), there were 546.090 persons with a social assistance benefit in December 2015; thus, around 21.843 persons will be involved in the experiments. Only municipalities which have implemented the Participation Act in fullness will be selected for one of the pilots. The duration of the experiments is set at two years. Stakeholders criticize this as of ‘too limited duration’.

Each basic income experiment will consist of six groups. Larger municipalities will use all six groups, for smaller municipalities three groups are enough.

Welfare claimants are randomly assigned to one of these five groups:

1. A group who is exempt from formal obligations to find employment. Subjects in this group will not receive formal sanctions in case they fail to actively look for paid work [1]. However, after six and twelve months, the municipality will check whether sufficient efforts have voluntarily been made by the participant to find paid labor. When too few activities have been undertaken, the trial period will be terminated;

2. A group that will be subjected to additional obligations and duties during the experimental period in order to reintegrate them into the labor market, entailing at least a doubling of contacts with civil servants responsible for carrying out the Participation Act;

3. A group who is allowed to keep 50 percent of their earnings in addition to the welfare payments with a maximum of 199 EUR per month for single persons and 142 EUR for married couples (which is less than the legal minimum wage);

4. A combination of the above groups, whereby the first two groups always should be combined in an experiment;

5. A control group.

In addition to these five randomly-assigned groups, the experiments will use a reference group consisting of social assistance recipients living in the same municipality, but not participating in the experiment (e.g. benefit claimants in a neighboring municipality not involved in the trial).

Welfare claimants sign an agreement which states that their participation is strictly voluntary. However, it is forbidden to stop during the course of the experiment. They will receive their normal benefit allowances during the project (Sjir Hoeijmakers, email communication).

Criticism from Stakeholders

Meetings of activists in Groningen CC Zeptonn

Meetings of activists in Groningen CC Zeptonn

Stakeholders are critical about the design of the basic income experiments. In a letter addressed to Members of Parliament, scientists of the four collaborating universities (Tilburg, Utrecht, Groningen and Wageningen) contend that reliable scientific research cannot be tested within the proposed framework.

For example, Professor Dr. Ruud Muffels from Tilburg University criticizes the introduction of a group with more government control. “The effects of sanctions have been extensively studied. I wonder what kind of information you want to find. It will also complicate the interpretation of the results of the pilot. If freedom has consequences – the participant can be banned from the experiment after one year when he or she is not ‘active enough’ in seeking a paid job – this line of inquiry cannot be tested. It might also create an ethically difficult dilemma, because we are looking for volunteers for the research, and we have to clarify the implications of their participation.”

As a consequence of these concerns, researchers like Dr. Muffels fear that the proposed framework will deter benefit claimants from participation in the experiments, due to the use of a group that will experience much more control.

The researchers call upon the MPs to pay attention to their concerns when the framework is discussed with the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment in the Parliamentary Committee for Social Affairs and Employment.

Divosa (Association of Executives in the Social Domain) also has doubts about the value of the experiments. According to Divosa’s vice-president Jellemiek Zock, “It is more difficult to measure the effects of the pilots, because they are more limited than in the original design. Besides, activities like taking a part-time job, starting a business, caring for children or other family members are excluded from the experiments. Nevertheless, given the situation in the present government – a coalition of VVD and PvdA – I think this is the most we can get at this moment. But we will proceed.”

Another stakeholder in the experiment says, “We wanted a simple pilot based on trust rather than repression. We wanted to give benefit claimants more freedom, more choice, more purchasing power. Now we have a complicated set of rules. What remains is a puzzle, which makes it difficult to shape the experiments and understand the results. However, we are glad to start.”

For her own part, the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment is content with the outcome: the proposed framework is still miles away from a really unconditional basic income.


[1] Under Dutch social laws, a benefit claimant is normally sanctioned when he or she is not actively looking for paid work. These sanctions are described in the Participation Act and executed by civil servants employed by a municipality.

Cover Photo CC OuiShare

Thanks to Kate McFarland for reviewing a draft of this article.

An Unconditional Basic Income for 60 Plus

An Unconditional Basic Income for 60 Plus

Last August 21, the Dutch woke to find an interesting article in their morning paper, written by Mrs. Annemarie van Gaal. In her weekly Monday column she suggested abolishing the AOW and all other income schemes for individuals above 60 years of age, with their unworkable obligations, bureaucratic regulations, and fees and punishments. Instead, AOW recipients would receive an unconditional basic income of €1100 to €1200 a month. This would greatly decrease the seriousness in which they need to take these 9 considerations to make before you retire into account, decreasing worries and stress for the elderly.

For many people, the article came as a surprise, because it was published in the daily journal, De Telegraaf (The Telegraph), which is legendary for its right-wing liberal and right-wing populist bias. And a recent poll among right-wing voters revealed that the majority do not approve of the idea of a basic income.

opdoekenThe Dutch abbreviation ‘AOW’ means ‘Algemene Ouderdomswet‘ – the 1956 law installed a state pension for the elderly, above the age of 65. From 2016 onwards, the retirement age is expected to increase quickly: to the age of 66 in 2018, and to 67 in 2021. And as of 2022, entering the AOW scheme will be linked to the average life expectancy. This brings to attention another point, and that’s life insurance. People heading towards retirement should be considering setting up a life insurance policy with help from companies like az money, and they should be doing this well before they are claiming a pension. With the uncertain health effects of a prolonged working life, seniors unfortunately need to start thinking about what will happen to their families when they die.

The plan for the increase of the pension age was agreed upon by the current coalition of VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) and PvdA (Labour Party) in order to cut government spending. These austerity measures are expected to save the Treasury €3.6 billion by 2024. De Telegraaf was a vocal supporter of the increase in the retirement age.

Mrs. van Galen is a well-known TV personality and businesswoman. In her television program, she teaches benefit claimants how to get a job. She demonstrates how much money the candidate will earn from accepting certain kinds of work, sends him to intensive job application training, and gives him a full makeover: a new haircut, new clothes, and if necessary, new teeth. Dress for success!

Her suggested basic income plan is very appealing because it would affect two major social problems in Dutch society.

The first problem concerns the growing group of people over 60 who have lost their jobs, often in the crisis of 2008-2009, and during the austerity measures that followed.

As Mrs. van Gaal puts it:

The unemployed above 60 are not to be envied. Unemployment among this group has never been so high. Their whole life they worked hard. Now they have lost their work and as a consequence have to deal with sharply declining living standards, whereas their chances to find a new full-time job is nearly zero, so the years to come will be full of uncertainty before they get the state pension (AOW), and what at that time will be left of their saved pensions?

Despite their dire prospects, the UWV (Employee Insurance Schemes Implementing Body) requires that the unemployed over 60 continues to apply for jobs, whether they can or not. The meager allowances of those who don’t (or can’t) are cut down or withdrawn. In other countries such as America, it can become a lot worse, elderly citizens with no allowances or health care end up forgotten about, without insurance these elderly are very prone to medical emergencies, requiring the aging population to think about insurance early on in their lives. When it comes to dental insurance for seniors, PPOs are the most common insurance plan. They offer a network of preselected dentists that they can choose from. Only if they were to visit one of those dentists will they save money. Otherwise, the elderly population has minimal options when it comes to oral healthcare. Is this how it is looking for the Dutch?

But for businesses to take on an older applicant, the ten different allowances and arrangements assigned to them creates a process so complicated that it’s frequently necessary to hire a third party simply to manage the process. Creating this kind of bureaucracy in the workplace does no one any good, and is certainly no way to encourage employment.

In recent years, the Dutch government has pumped hundreds of millions of euros into job training, networking events, and other arrangements for the older and unemployed. And the effectiveness of these measures is yet unknown, says the Court of Audit, and is hardly expected to dramatically increase employment prospects anytime soon.

The second issue with AOW, is that it’s almost an unconditional income – the state pension is dependant on your living situation. If you are going to live with another person, whether it is a partner, a family member who provides care, or a lodger, you are financially punished, whereas if you choose assisted living you may receive more. And if you have little or no saved pension, pension benefits as supplements are means-tested, so to earn some extra money is nearly impossible. The healthy and elderly will not move in with their children, for example, to babysit the grandchildren, because their income will only be reduced. Strange, indeed, because it would save the government a great amount spent on medical expenses and childcare allowances.

Mrs. van Gaal:

Ultimately, a basic income is the best route for the future, so let’s introduce it on a limited scale, namely into the group aged 60 years and above, regardless of [if] they work or not, irrespective of their living conditions. [And] if you live with another 60 plus [you would] have twice that amount. Look after your grandchildren, start volunteering, help your neighbors, go traveling or take up a small job for a few hours per week. I’m sure we will [have] a much better society. All seniors will take part in society without restrictions and rules, without being cut and without compromising. How nice.

anne marieThe reaction to Mrs. van Gaal’s column was overwhelming. Within a few hours she was invited onto several talk shows, and many websites took notice of the column and hundreds of comments appeared online. One site recommended appointing her as the first female Prime Minister of The Netherlands.

However, in stark contrast, some politicians reacted bleakly to the proposal. After all, they had worked hard (and were well paid) to develop and defend the new retirement pension scheme and all other relevant legislation. Coalition partners, VVD and PvdA, consider the plan too radical, too expensive and ‘the wrong solution’ to this particular problem. The VVD even said it ‘abhors’ the idea of a basic income. One of their MP’s pointed out that society should not exclude the elderly, and that according to him, that’s what a basic income does. “Then we say to the elderly: you are no longer needed and that is not true. Their knowledge and experience are highly valued in the workplace.”

Norbert Klein, the leader of the Vrijzinnige Partij (Cultural Liberal Party), a party with one seat [in the Tweede Kamer], is pleased with the ideas of Van Gaal – but the plans do not go far enough for him. He has written a memorandum that calls for an unconditional basic income for every Dutch citizen from the age of 18 onwards. On September 19th this memorandum will be discussed with members for the Committee for Social Affairs and Employment of the Second Chamber of Parliament and the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Lodewijk Asscher of the PvdA.

Several organizations as well are not very sympathetic to the idea of an unconditional basic income for the 60 plus. “Mrs. van Gaal acts as an elephant in a China shop,” said a spokeswoman for the Unie-KBO, the union for the elderly, “but we are pleased with all the attention [these urgent matters are receiving].” Nibud, the National Institute for Family Finance Information, considers €1100 or €1200 too low to cover all household costs.

But a huge amount of readers reacted positively and enthusiastically. “An idea which is very close to my heart”, commented someone. “Abolish the bureaucracy for 60 plus,” another responded, “finally, someone who really understands the problems of older unemployed”. Readers, too, hinted at a political career for the Telegraaf columnist. “This is a plan which a sane man cannot ignore. Better and more pleasant than the plans that are figured out by the pundits in The Hague. The government may try to increase job opportunity for this group, but now it is clear that this policy fails.”

Annemarie van Gaal:

Dutch people want a simpler society. No more complicated rules, no hassle with endless discounts or correct taxes. We want it to be simpler, easier to understand and implement for everyone. The introduction of an unconditional basic income is inevitable over time. Utopia? No, it just requires some guts of our government.

Reviewed by Cameron McLeod

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS: Expert Meeting on “Sense (and Nonsense) of a Basic Income”

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS: Expert Meeting on “Sense (and Nonsense) of a Basic Income”

Norbert Klein, the leader of the Vrijzinnige Partij (a small Cultural Liberal Party), has organized a debate about basic income in cooperation with the Vereniging Basisinkomen (the Dutch branch of BIEN). The event is scheduled for Thursday, September 1, 2016 from 13:30 to 17:30 in café Dudok, Hofweg 1a, The Hague.

Earlier this year, Norman Klein (pictured) initiated a memorandum for the Members of the Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber of Parliament). “The labour market is changed fundamentally. The introduction of new, innovative concepts like a basic income is urgently needed to prevent large scale social inequality and social unrest by providing everyone of a secure, adequate income,” he argues in his memo called Zeker Flexibel (Security and Flexibility).

On September 19 (the first day of the 9th International Basic Income Week), this memorandum will be discussed with the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Lodewijk Asscher (of the Partij van de Arbeid or Labour Party) and the members of the Committee for Social Affairs and Employment of the Second Chamber of Parliament. The discussion is open to the public, and all are encouraged to attend.

Before this meeting, Mr. Klein wishes to discuss the “sense and nonsense” of an unconditional basic income with the general public. Thus, he organized the debate at café Dudok, which will feature the following participants:

  • Reinier Castelein, chairman of the union De Unie (The Union). Castelein recently published a book entitled Welzijn is de nieuwe welvaart (Well-Being is the New Prosperity), in which he argues for the introduction of a basic income.
  • Ben Ligteringen, secretary of the Economy Working Group of GreenLeft (a green political party). In a recent statement on policy advice, the Working Group expresses strong opposition to the idea of a basic income, out of both financial and social reasons. Mr. Ligteringen instead supports the idea that municipalities should create “basic jobs” for the unemployed and that such workers should be paid the minimum legal wage. These jobs would bring benefit claimants back into the world of work and allow them to participate in society. The Economy Working Group fears that the costs of a basic income are too high, and that it will provide less benefit for society at large in comparison to a “basic jobs” program.
  • Alexander de Roo, new chairman of the Vereniging Basisinkomen (The Dutch branch of BIEN). Along with Philippe van Parijs and Guy Standing, De Roo was one of the co-founders of BIEN in 1986. He proceeded to serve as BIEN’s Treasurer until 2004. De Roo was also a founding member of GreenLeft (the Dutch Green Party) in The Netherlands during the 1980s. From 1999 to 2004 he was a Member of the GreenLeft section of the European Parliament.
  • Raymond Gradus, professor of Public Economics and Administration at the Free University (VU University) in Amsterdam and former Director of the Research institute for the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal). Gradus has published several articles in which he argues against basic income from the principle that each individual has the obligation to contribute to society “according to his ability”. He is convinced that the basic income does the opposite and is therefore a bad instrument to inspire participation in society. Mr. Gradus advocates a “participation income” instead.