Lessons from Tampere, Pt. 2

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UBI inspires hope for the next generation 

Two more perspectives on the 2018 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress in Tampere, Finland…

WILL’S STORY

The 2015 general election was my first opportunity to exercise my democratic right to vote in a national election. As a first year International Politics student, I had become exposed to a far greater number of political thoughts than one might expect in a rural village in Derbyshire. In order to fully express myself politically, I wanted to fully explore every political party that I could vote for, refusing to vote tactically or believing my vote a waste.

As I weighed up the merits of each party, the only policy that really struck me as progressive and exciting was the Green Party’s Universal Basic Income policy. Despite my excitement at this policy, my first thoughts of giving every citizen a regular, unconditional payment ranged from “But why should we pay an income to the most well off in society?” to the classic “Won’t that just make everyone lazy?”

Following that election, the next time I encountered the idea of UBI was later that year in Finland. I was fortunate enough to be successful in my application to study abroad in my second year, and got to spend four amazing months studying in Tampere, Finland’s second largest city. For one of my modules on Finnish Politics and Culture, we had to present to the class a presentation about one aspect of Finnish society. My group’s topic was the Finnish welfare state and I leapt at the chance to present my section on UBI, as the Finnish government had recently announced their intention to perform a UBI trial. Researching for this helped me to overcome the reservations I previously had about a basic income, and it became a policy that I fully endorse.

In 2017 I moved to Sheffield and began my MSc in International Social Change and Policy. It seems foolish now in hindsight, but it took me far longer than it should have to realise that UBI should be the focus of my dissertation. It is a policy that would help address negative trends in social change around the world, but could also bring about numerous positive instances of social change.

[Basic income] would help address negative trends in social change around the world

As the ideas for my dissertation developed, I came to realise the significance of the Finnish trial, which began in 2017. This then became the focus of my dissertation, as I decided to analyse the development of the basic income pilot, its parameters and how this will affect the international discourse on UBI overall.

As well as academic articles, my research consisted of reading books by Philippe van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, Annie Miller, Rutger Bremen and Guy Standing. Whilst reading Standing’s 2017 Guide to Basic Income he discussed BIEN, the international Basic Income organisation, and its yearly conferences, mentioning that the next one in 2018 would take place in Tampere, Finland. This was an opportunity that I couldn’t afford to miss.

So almost exactly three years to the day that I first set off to Tampere, my girlfriend Amy and I were on a plane to attend an international conference on the topic of my dissertation, in the city I called home for four months. I couldn’t wait.

The conference itself went by in a whirlwind and it was amazing to see just how many people were there from all over the world. Preceding the conference was a Nordic UBI Day, where we got to hear about UBI in each of the different Nordic contexts. It was fascinating to see that whilst UBI may seem to work well with the stereotypical Nordic welfare state, it has starkly varying levels of development in each context, with Finland clearly having the most developed UBI discourse thus far. This day concluded with a stimulating talk by Rutger Bremen, the author of Utopia for Realists

Over the next three days, just like at a music festival, there were are a plethora of events to attend, with around seven sessions occurring at any one time. This lead to agonising decisions over what themes would be most interesting for us to attend and many of the ‘big names’ in UBI in clashing slots.

In the end, we attended sessions about the affordability of UBI, UBI in different national contexts, UBI and its relation to gender equality, the environment, taxation and the dimension of disability in the UBI discourse. We also heard the differing political perspectives and numerous economic perspectives. In between these sessions, we were afforded the opportunities to engage with these brilliant speakers on a more informal level.

Each day at the conference lasted about eight hours, including the breaks, leaving Amy and I in an almost-haze by the end of each day, having had so much information to take in and so many different wonderful people to meet (we’re not the most extrovert of people!). We were in Tampere for six days, which was ideal, as this gave us time outside of the conference to fully appreciate that wonderful city.

The week after we came back was the last week for me to work on my dissertation, thankfully it was largely completed by then, but I was able to reflect on what I had learnt at the conference to fine-tune my work. It is clear that the pilot scheme in Finland is not a true representation of what a UBI scheme should be - it's limited to a narrow target group, it’s a relatively low level of basic income, and its focus on getting people to join the labour market ignores numerous other benefits that a true UBI could bring.

Nevertheless, it has been a flagship for UBI development around the world and, despite the drawbacks and the government’s decision to not extend the pilot past the end of this year, will undoubtedly have lasting consequences on the future of UBI.

Will Adams recently completed an MSc in International Social Change and Policy at the University of Sheffield.

AMY’S STORY

A year ago I knew almost nothing about Universal Basic Income.

Now, after attending the 2018 BIEN conference in Tampere, I understand much more about what it is, the effects it would have on a population and the amount of work that has gone into researching how it could be funded. I have very little knowledge about the economy and how it works - I studied Animal Science at university and now work in a dog kennels - so my interest in UBI started purely from Will introducing me to the concept, as he began his dissertation on the topic.

Since learning about UBI, I’ve excitedly explained the idea to colleagues, family and friends who had never heard of it, but all came back with the same opinions: it would be ideal and would reduce the stress of having to earn enough money just to live, but politicians would never introduce something that gives everyone ‘free money’ purely because of the cost. Even if I explained that the conference talks outlined how it wasn’t actually that expensive, most people thought it was just too good to be true. 

I love my job, but if I had a basic income, I’d be able to work 3 or 4 days a week instead

While I was at the conference, it was hard not to imagine what I would do with a basic income. As it stands, I’m often working at least 5 or 6 days a week during busy periods like summer at the dog kennels, sometimes all 7 days. It’s exhausting and means when I’m home in the evenings, I just want to eat dinner and then get some sleep, before the next day at work. I love my job, but if I had a basic income, I’d be able to work 3 or 4 days a week instead. I’d be less tired, able to spend time doing what I want to do during the day, and would have more time and money to look after animals of my own. Basically, I’d feel like I actually have a life, and could see family and friends more often, instead of just spending all my time working and still struggling to get out of my overdraft. 

I’m really glad I went to the conference because it filled me with hope that UBI could actually be possible in the near future, and would have such a revolutionary effect on every citizen that received it. I ended up taking four times the amount of notes as Will during the conference talks, mostly because he already knew some of the information, but every talk we went to was fascinating to learn about.

I was worried that I would be out of my depth and be lost at this conference but it was suprisingly easy to understand for someone outside of BIEN. It was uplifting to know that everyone there was working towards improving the quality of life for others through this one idea, and I will continue to follow any progress with the implementation of UBI around the world.

Amy McEwen is an Animal Science graduate, now working at a kennels in Sheffield.

UBI Lab Sheffield