Finland: Olli Kangas reveals the resistance to UBI
Olli Kangas, one of the masterminds behind Finland’s Universal basic income (UBI) research experiment, has spoken in detail about the process of implementing the UBI experiment and the challenges that have come with it. Finland’s UBI trial, presents the first of its kind in Europe, however different to other examples of UBI, in that it only gives handout to the unemployed. The research study organized and supervised by Kangas involves around 2,000 unemployed participants, with a budget of approximately 20 million euros, where each participant of the study getting around 560 euros a month for two years.
“Although the contribution a person gets is low, it is permanent and secure,” said Olli Kangas, speaking at the 2018 Nordic work life conference. Kangas overarching goal within the project is to uncover what happens when the people being studied no longer must waste time submitting for economic assistance from the state. Would this newfound time be spent looking for jobs or on other activities?
Politically, Kangas has faced multiple problems in trying to get the experiment up and running, which began in 2016. For instance, some politicians in Finland from the Finns party have argued that the UBI will only succeed in turning Finland into a hotspot for welfare scammers and refugees. This has only added further bureaucratic and political resistance to the project.
Opposition to the UBI project has seemingly transcended ideological lines, in terms of Left and Right typical political wings. The most adamant critics of the project argue that UBI simply acts as a tool to give out free state handouts, which acts to kill citizens desires to get jobs and contribute to working society. Kangas replies that the purpose of the study is to shed some light over these questions posed by sceptical politicians and to reveal how people act when they receive unconditional guaranteed payments.
Olli Kangas. Picture credit to: Iltalehti.
The initial planned study was expected to be large in scope and funding, which as stated by Kangas “made us feel like ‘masters of the universe’, planning an experiment with 100,000 participants. But we soon came back down to Earth, since the bureaucrats turned out to be stronger than the politicians”.
A major problem that the political resistance has brought with it is the difficulties in securing funding for the experiment. As remarked by Kangas over the Nordic Work Life Conference 2018, “it has been extremely difficult to secure funding for this. Politicians were willing to provide 20 million euro for the experiment, but just 700,000 euro to evaluate it”. However, the experiment has also received support from each political side too, with some politicians from the Right viewing UBI as a potential method to strip back the welfare system and arguments from the Left which see UBI more as an expansion of the welfare state.
An additional obstacle with the setting up of Kangas research study was the Finish Constitution. It states that there must be no unequal mistreatment of citizens, which impacted the plans to conduct an obligatory study where participants received payments regardless of whether they needed or wanted them. Hence Kangas had to scrap any experiment that implied payments to anyone, regardless of employment status.
Even given the challenges for setting up this experiment, it has been running for almost two years, and is scheduled to finish at the end of 2018, with its findings expected to be published in late 2020. Finish politicians and social researchers alike will have to wait as to whether their differing claims about the UBI experiment come to fruition. Kangas suspects that with the scepticism rising around the expected results of the project, this will be finished a year earlier than first set out and that if any UBI policy is to be implemented in Finland “it would be through the back door – by merging and simplifying some types of benefit”. Due to the great deal of resistance Kangas has faced when trying to implement this experiment on basic income, he is not entirely optimistic about the prospects of implementing UBI in Finland and feels it’s unlikely to happen in the future. However, Kangas admits that “One experiment here or there couldn’t say if basic income is good or not”, which leaves, in a way, the door open to new initiatives regarding basic income from Kela, the Finish Social Security.
More information at:
“Finland’s basic income organisers correct inaccurate media reports of trial’s premature death”. Yle Uutiset, April 25th 2018
Björn Lindahl, “The research project against all odds: Olli Kangas on Finland’s universal basic income”. Nordic Labour Journal, June 22nd 2018
Olli Kangas on YouTube, 2018
Heikki Hiilamo and Olli Kangas, “Universal Basic Income: Does the Carrot Work Better than the Stick?”. Meeting of the Minds, January 27th 2017
Olli Kangas, Sharon Bessell and Martyn Pearce, “Back to basics – Finland’s Universal Basic Income – Policy Forum” (Podcast). Asia & the Pacific Policy Society – Policy Forum, June 1st 2018