In 2019, the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health published a report that evaluated the results of their 2017-2018 Basic Income Experiment. During this period, 2000 unemployed people were given a monthly payment of 560 euros without being subjected to a means assessment or having to adhere to a typical social support recipient criteria. The experiment was initially launched to try to improve employment figures amongst this population but resulted in no change compared to a control group. However, the report found that the recipients of the Basic Income payment claimed less sickness allowance and social assistance benefits. Furthermore, the test group was more confident in their own future and experienced significantly fewer health problems in regards to stress, concentration and overall wellbeing.

Image result for free money and health

Basic Income or more commonly known as Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not a concept limited to Finland. The state of Alaska has distributed an unconditional ‘Permanent Fund Dividend’ to its citizens since 1975 as a way of redistributing oil revenue, which is seen as a public good. A 2015 study found that there is a positive relationship between the dividend and health with an additional $1000 increasing overall birthweights and reducing the incidence of low birthweights amongst Alaskan newborns. Since 1998 there has been 461 research papers published on the topic and a UBI equivalent has been trialled in Canada, Kenya and Namibia.

More recently, UBI has entered the political landscape with one of the US’s Democratic Presidential Candidates, Andrew Yang, proposing a $1000 monthly handout as part of his run for the primaries. This would be offered as a substitute for welfare benefits and could combat the millions of jobs lost as a result of automation in the US manufacturing industry. He also suggests it would improve health, by citing a Canada study that observed an 8.5% decrease in hospitalisation rates following the ‘Mincome’ experiment. The UBI would be funded through a Value Added Tax (VAT) on the production of goods and services, and also aims at capturing the profits of US tech monopolies.

The UBI experiments to date show compelling evidence for improving health outcomes but are not comparable to more targeted initiatives, such as Australian Medicare or the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme). Currently in Australia, The Greens are the only major party considering a UBI and the Labour party has announced it will change the minimum wage to a ‘living wage’ to accommodate the rising costs of living.