Universal basic income can improve mental health

Can a universal basic income be an alternate to benefits for people who have been long unemployed? A new report from Linköping University has examined for official bodies in Östergötland whether such a solution is worth testing.

Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl, Christian Ståhl. Intervju om medborgarlön. Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl and Christian Ståhl have written the report “Interventioner inspirerade av basinkomst” (“Interventions inspired by a universal basic income”). Magnus Johansson

“The aim of the report was to determine whether a universal basic income can inspire new ways of working and shorten the pathway to employment for people in this group, and at the same time improve their well-being. Previous international studies have given encouraging results”, says Christian Ståhl, professor of sociology at LiU and research manager at the HELIX Competence Centre.

A universal basic income is an income paid regularly by the state, often to a certain group, without means testing and without placing any requirements on behaviour or performance. The value of the income is most often the living income threshold. Tests with a universal basic income have been carried out at small scale and for limited groups in several countries since the 1970s, including the US, Canada, Namibia, Kenya, India and Finland.

Positive results

Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl“A universal basic income reduces anxiety about poverty”, says Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl, principal author of the report. Photo credit Magnus Johansson“We present in the report results from all international research into the universal basic income. It forms a knowledge base, such that the official bodies interested in the question can hold a discussion based on better facts before making a decision”, says Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl. She has a doctoral degree in the field of the work environment from LiU and is principal author of the report. The authors emphasise that all previous research demonstrates unambiguously two very positive results.

Improved mental health

The first result is that people who receive a universal basic income do not stop seeking employment, nor do they give up work. In fact, the opposite is the case. Many people use their universal basic income to become more employable, by taking courses, buying tools or a telephone, or getting transport, for example, depending on where in the world they live. The universal basic income allows them to take more control over their life, make long-term plans, and in this way find it easier to enter working life”, says Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl.
The second result is that mental health improves.

“The universal basic income reduces anxiety about poverty. In addition, pretty much all studies that measure the mental health of people in this group show that their trust in society increases, and this results in, for example, lower alcohol consumption.”

A controversial question

But the question of a universal basic income is controversial, and the report concludes that different ideologies, for example, conflict. Many people also have an opinion based on different ideas about how a universal basic income can be introduced, and which systems it can replace. Should it, for example, replace only means-tested allowances such as social assistance, or all allowances, including sick pay and unemployment benefit?
“We discuss in the report the idea that means-tested benefits should be replaced, while systems such as sick pay should be retained”, says Christian Ståhl.

Tests on a group

Christian Ståhl.“A universal basic income is new territory in Sweden”, Christian Ståhl concludes. Photo credit Magnus JohanssonThe study has been commissioned by Samordningsförbundet i Centrala Östergötland, an organisation that works to bring people who have long been unemployed back into the labour market and achieve a better quality of life. The people involved are often those who require support and benefits from more than one government agency, such as Arbetsförmedlingen – Sweden's Public Employment Agency, and Försäkringskassan (the Swedish social insurance agency). For these people, the regulations about benefits can often be seen as inflexible and complicated. Three municipalities in Östergötland: Linköping, Kinda and Åtvidaberg, have shown an interest in the question of a universal basic income.

New territory in Sweden

“But these municipalities are not discussing a truly universal basic income, to be given to all citizens, but a solution in which a group of people who today receive social assistance receive instead an allowance without any demands placed on them”, Anna-Carin Fagerlind Ståhl points out. If Samordningsförbundet introduces ways of working inspired by a universal basic income, the researchers hope to be able to study the work scientifically.

“This is new territory in Sweden: in other countries the idea of a universal basic income is significantly more alive than it is here”, Christian Ståhl concludes.

Translated by George Farrants

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