By Claire Swinko, European Affairs
Earlier this week Swiss voters overwhelmingly (77%) rejected a referendum initiative to provide a universal basic income to its citizens regardless of employment status. While the measure called for a constitutional amendment that would introduce a UBI and guarantee “a humane existence and participation in public life for the whole population”, nearly all major political parties and the government opposed both the idea of a referendum and its substance. However, proponents gained the requisite 100,000 signatures in accordance with Swiss law, suggesting a basic monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs to adults who have legally lived in the country for a minimum of five years, and 640 Swiss francs to children under 18 years of age. Opponents claimed the proposal, if enacted, would cost 25 billion Swiss francs per year and even the measure’s proponents conceded that it could consume about a third of the country’s GDP.
The Swiss referendum on guaranteed income was the first of its kind, but European countries have been toying with the idea of providing guaranteed income for years. Finland and the Netherlands have laid out plans for pilot programs to launch in 2017 to test the feasibility of a national plan. Discussion of similar plans have occurred in legislatures of France, Iceland, Spain, and the UK. Across the Atlantic, Canada is getting ready to test its own program in Ontario, and US policy makers on both sides of the aisle have begun to discuss the idea.
The Dutch program will start on January 1, 2017 in the city of Utrecht. The experiment will also be conducted in other cities, including Wageningen, Tilburg, Groningen, and Nijmegen. The Netherlands will break down its study into 4 separate groups, each testing a different variant. The first group will receive a grant from the government regardless of if they already hold a job. Groups two and three will be offered the opportunity to receive a reward of 125 euros upon fulfilling necessary requirements. Groups Two will collect the monthly grant, but must complete volunteer work to receive the bonus. If they do not fulfill this requirement they lose the reward. Group Three participants collect the monthly grant regardless, but have the opportunity to receive the bonus if they choose to volunteer. Group Four may receive the grant, but cannot collect additional wages from outside work.
The Finnish model is slated to start sometime in 2017. The two-year pilot program features a random sample of 10,000 adults who will receive 550 euros each month from the government. The Finnish population and government support the program. Hanna Mantyla, the Minister of Social Affairs and Health, said that this program could be crucial in fixing the major issues plaguing the country’s social security system, stating that the system “faced big challenges in the future.” The government enlisted the help of Finnish social insurance agency, Kepla, to carry out special reports and experiments relating to the project. Individuals who receive an outside wage must reimburse the government by paying higher income taxes.