The neoliberal concepts openly put existing workers’ rights up to abolish them. This makes them highly questionable. Workers’ rights have been fought for by the workers’ movements for more than 150 years. It seems absurd to me to question this. And the implications of neoliberal concepts for workers’ rights explain why for example trade unions are very critical of all concepts involving an unconditional basic income.
I can enrich these facts with personal experience: in 1994, I was coordinator for the concept of the Greens in Germany for a reform of basic social income. The concept had been developed together with welfare associations and initiatives. It included a living income and unbureaucratic access, so it was humanistic oriented. It was not an unconditional basic income for everyone, but a concept that could help people affected by poverty to live in dignity and to escape the poverty trap – without being forced to work. Through this approach, the reform debate gained momentum. In 2003, the red-green government decided on its reform concept. They called it Basic Income – but in reality it was Hartz IV – a massive deterioration in the rules on unemployment as a whole and for basic social security. It was the reduction of income to the absolute subsistence level plus massive compulsory work. This experience may show that we always have to look to the reality behind the words when it comes to social standards.
In this way the social utopian concepts remain as hope. However, I have a few points of criticism here as well. Wherever practical experiments with the unconditional basic income have been carried out up to now, they have either been short-term projects for young people or they have been carried out with precariously employed people and people affected by unemployment.
One of the short-term projects is the crowd-funded, one-year scholarship being implemented in Berlin. This is where young people use this time mainly to explore their options and develop creative new ideas for their future.
One of the longer-term projects is the Finnish 2-year basic income project, which has now been completed. 2000 randomly selected unemployed Finns received 560 euros every month for two years, tax-free and unconditional, instead of the normal unemployment benefit – it was an unconditional basic income. In some cases, it did not even amount to more money than the unemployment benefit previously paid. The biggest differences: the recipients received the unconditional basic income just like that. No applications, no forms, no bureaucracy. And they were allowed to earn as much as they wanted in addition to the monthly payment of 560 euros.
The project was examined in a study and compared with a control group that did not receive a basic income. The main aim was to find out to what extent the participants in the project were able to find work opportunities. The study states that, in the first year, there was hardly any increase in employment, while in the second year there were definitely positive effects, which, however, were difficult to assess because there was another general employment promotion programme operating at the same time and asymmetrically to the project.
The following are considered positive results: According to the study, the participants felt better psychologically because of the basic income. They were happier and more confident with their fellow human beings. It takes a longer period of time to develop positive effects on job search.
In a , 46% of those questioned were in favour of the introduction of an unconditional basic income.
However, there is also the question of whether the focus on work in evaluating the experiment should be the main approach.
My preliminary conclusion on the unconditional basic income is therefore that we need many more practical experiments. New projects may take place on a local, regional or national level and, like the Finnish project, they must be backed up by the science. But Finland also shows that it takes more than two years for such projects to bear fruit.
My last example took place far away from Europe, in Namibia, where an unconditional basic income financed by donations from the churches was realized in 2008-2009. Otjivero-Omitara, a village in the middle of the desert with 930 beneficiaries, was selected as the location. Then, a form of pension was paid. The very small sum of money per month ($9) was paid to each of the women of the village.
In the run-up, the model project was occasionally heavily criticised. The basic idea of eradicating poverty was endorsed, but two main points of criticism were identified:
• Poor people cannot use money responsibly,
• Paying cash without consideration gives people rights without responsibility.
However, based on the empirical data, it can be shown that the number of malnourished children has decreased. The number of school attendances has increased and the number of medical consultations, which was measured by the clinic fees paid, has also increased.
In addition, the cash payments have led to a decline in begging activities and thus to a gain in human dignity. Social relationships have improved, and the community has been strengthened. For a long time there was a struggle to implement the model throughout Namibia. In 2013, however, its supporters were forced to acknowledge that the resistance was too great.(3)
It might seem a little strange to introduce this example from the Global South into the discussion in Europe. In this discussion, however, it is particularly important to look beyond the highly industrialised countries. Climate change, desertification of large areas of land, and the merciless privatization of land are forcing people to seek refuge in mega-cities – and this development will continue to increase in the future. More and more people are forced to live in extreme poverty, often without any shelter. The question of a minimum livelihood is an urgent question in the Global South as well. The context is mentioned in the Attac concept, too.