February 19, 2017
When he got the letter after Christmas saying he was entitled to an unconditional income of €560 (£478) a month, Mika Ruusunen couldn’t believe his luck. “At first I thought it was a joke. I had to read it many times. I looked for any evidence it might be false.”
But the father of two was not the victim of a scam. He has been selected to take part in an experiment being run by the Finnish government, in which 2,000 unemployed people between the ages of 25 and 58 will receive a guaranteed sum – a “basic income” – of €560 a month for two years. It replaces their unemployment benefit, but they will continue to receive it whether or not they find work. The government hopes it will encourage the unemployed to take on part-time work without worrying about losing their benefits.
Today, the Finnish economy continues to struggle in the wake of the financial crisis, which hit just as communications giant Nokia’s star was starting to wane. This left Ruusunen, who lost his job as a baker two years ago, struggling to find work. He was unemployed when participants for the basic income pilot were randomly selected, but had started a paid IT apprenticeship by the time he got the letter.
“For me, it’s like free money on top of my earnings – it’s a bonus,” he tells me. But he thinks the basic income will make a big difference to others who are unemployed, especially those who are entrepreneurially minded. “If someone wants to start their own business, you don’t get unemployment benefits even if you don’t have any income for six months. You have to have savings, otherwise it’s not possible.”