Swiss voters overwhelmingly reject proposal for unconditional basic income

Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have guaranteed everyone in the Alpine nation an unconditional basic income, according to projections published Sunday by public broadcaster SRF1. The idea has also been floated in Canada.

According to projections from a polling group, 78% of voters opposed the measure

The Swiss basic income plan would have offered 2,500 Swiss francs ($3,315 Cdn) per month, enough to cover basic needs. Policy makers and the public around the world are eyeing basic guaranteed income schemes. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters )

Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have guaranteed everyone in the Alpine nation an unconditional basic income, according to projections published Sunday by public broadcaster SRF1.

The plan could have seen people in this wealthy nation of eight million people receive about 2,500 Swiss francs ($3,315 Cdn) per month — enough to cover their basic needs.

Proponents argued that a basic income would free people from meaningless toil and allow them to pursue more productive or creative goals in life. Critics said the plan would explode the state budget and encourage idleness, arguments that appear to have convinced voters.

Based on a partial count of results from 19 Swiss cantons (states), the gfs.bern polling group calculated that 78 per cent of voters opposed the measure.

The Swiss government itself advised voters to reject the proposal put forward by left-wing campaigners who collected the necessary 100,000 signatures to force a vote on the issue.

But the idea of basic income — also known as guaranteed minimum income, universal income or a negative income tax — has won over some economists, who say it could replace traditional welfare payments and give everybody the same chances in life.

Concept floated in Canada

The basic income debate recently made its way to Canada, with politicians at all three levels of government seeking to study it.

In Ottawa, a federal MP is pushing for government research on the subject. Ontario's provincial budget announced a pilot program to try it out. And in Quebec, a cabinet minister has been assigned to study the topic. The mayors of Calgary and Edmonton are also both on board with looking at the concept.

Google Trends, which tracks the volume of the search engine's inquiries, shows an increased number of searches for "basic income" and related terms in the past three years — especially in recent months.

The rise of the so-called gig economy and other types of precarious work is cited as one of the reasons behind the renewed debate around basic income. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

A basic income experiment has actually taken place in Canada before. For a five-year period in the 1970s, every person in the rural Manitoba community of Dauphin was given $1,255 a year (about $7,500 today).

The amount increased depending on the number of people living in each household. Dauphin residents didn't have to work to receive the money. If they did, their benefit dropped 50 cents for every dollar earned.

But the project was never implemented more widely and a final report wasn't released.

Some believe the idea is catching fire once again due to our changing labour landscape, where a secure 9-to-5 job is increasingly uncommon and technological advances have given rise to the so-called gig economy.

"I think people are simply looking at the state of the economy and they're starting to focus on changes that have been taking place for a very long time," said Evelyn Forget, a professor at the University of Manitoba who has studied the Dauphin project, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

With files from CBC News


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