September 1998                                            This article is only available on the Internet

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Citizen’s Income stirs debate

Continuing high unemployment in Finland has triggered a debate in newspapers on the various solutions. Concepts such as ‘the third sector’, ‘citizen’s income’ and ‘citizen’s work’ have become familiar phrases in Finnish media language.

There are no signs that the idea of Citizen’s Income is becoming the favoured model in this debate. Yet, the concept seems to have become a pivotal idea around which many participants in the debate define their sympathies and antipathies.

The concept of Citizen’s Income was recently examined in an editorial in the national daily Helsingin Sanomat. The newspaper found the idea unacceptable. The editorial writer’s conclusion was that such a basic income to all citizens would not encourage people to take full responsibility of their lives. The paper agreed with Pentti Arajärvi who had the government-appointed task to review the current legislation on income security. Helsingin Sanomat commented: "Arajärvi is right to conclude that every citizen must basically be responsible for their own income and earning a living by work. Nobody should think that this is the society’s responsibility."

In the view of Helsingin Sanomat, it is important that social security has nothing self-evident about it. "One must try to include ‘a reasonable amount’ of self-responsibility in it, as Arajärvi put it."

In a rejoinder, the Green MP Osmo Soininvaara, one of the leading advocates of Citizen’s Income in Finland, wrote that the fears expressed by Arajärvi and Helsingin Sanomat should be directed to the present social welfare system rather than Citizen’s Income. According to Soininvaara, for many long-term unemployed, a regular waged work unfortunately is not a likely alternative. "At least in big cities it is possible to find temporary work which for a person on income support is not worth taking. The present system does not encourage people to take any responsibility for their livelihood unless they can earn a full income. This will increase social exclusion because those who have been doing temporary work will be more likely to find good jobs than those who have been completely idle."

In Soininvaara’s opinion, a basic income system would put pressure on people to take responsibility for their own life, and what is more, this responsibility can be also taken by people who have not been successful in the ever tougher employment market.

One writer, Pertti Rannikko from the University of Joensuu, proposed an experiment of Citizen’s Income in the Finnish countryside. In his view, local experiments don’t take up huge financial resources but can produce useful information. According to Rannikko, nobody needs to worry about organising ‘citizen’s work’ in the countryside.

"There is a lot of socially useful work readily available and there are people who are used to doing such work. The problem is that this kind of work does not guarantee a sufficient income to full-time entrepreneurs or wage labourers."

The debate also overflowed to the letters pages of Helsingin Sanomat. Most correspondents supported the idea of Citizen’s Income.

The Finnish Institute organised a debate about the "Future of Work" on Friday, 30 October 1998. See Programme of the seminar.

See also:

For British definitions of Citizen's Income go to the Web pages of the Citizen's Income Trust.

In Ireland there has been a lively debate about Citizen's Income after the publication of Pathways to a Basic Income by Charles M.A. Clark and John Healy, published by the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Justice Office, Tabor House, Milltown Park, Dublin 6, Ireland, tel. +353-1-269 7799, fax 269 8887.

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