Utrecht to experiment with universal basic income
At the end of this year’s summer holiday, the city of Utrecht will launch an experiment to investigate the potential of "basic income", a system of unconditional welfare payments to individuals to cover their living costs.
The city has been working in partnership with the University College Utrecht (UCU) to assess how basic income might not only improve the immediate living standards of people on welfare, but even translate into greater societal health in the longer term.
Though basic income has been a country-wide discussion for some time, Utrecht’s experiment will be the first of its kind in the Netherlands.
Basic income: 'a system based on trust'
According to Alderman of Work and Income Victor Everhardt, the current Dutch welfare system (which includes unemployment benefits, child support, special assistance and housing allowances, among other components) are overly complicated and restricting.
In an interview with DeStadUtrecht.nl, Everhardt claims recipients often become "stuck" in a tangled web of categories, with their own regulations and requirements.
Currently, less than 1,5 per cent of Utrecht’s welfare population abuses the system. But without attached conditions, basic income would be more vulnerable to exploitation. It would, Everhardt claims, be "a system based on trust".
However, he wants to avoid putting the cart before the horse: "Before we get into all kinds of principled discussions about whether or not to adopt it, we want to really investigate how basic income works."
Later this year, a number of Utrecht residents already receiving welfare will be given basic income without rules attached. Another group will function on a reward basis, having to earn benefits. Finally, a control group will adhere to the current system.
Researchers from the city and UCU will examine which groups are most likely to search for work, and which will choose to live off of their allowances.
They are also interested in whether basic income will encourage people - made more flexible with their time and resources - to engage in volunteer work and contribute to society in meaningful ways.
Critics of the idea suggest basic income will hurt societal health in the long run, by making people lazy, unproductive and entitled.
Supporters envision exactly the opposite: a system giving people the means to pursue study, care for family members and take entrepreneurial risks.