As It Happens

Inspired by 1970s Manitoba, Dutch city tests guaranteed income

The Dutch city of Utrecht wants to find out if simply handing out a basic monthly income to unemployed people with no strings attached might be a better way to improve their lives.
A cyclist rides downtown Utrecht, Netherlands in 2015. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

As an experiment in the 1970s in Dauphin, Man., residents were provided a guaranteed minimum income, with no strings attached. Now Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is hoping a similar experiment will determine the best approach to help people struggling in that city.

The experiment will focus on people who are unemployed. One group will continue to collect benefits. A second group will receive benefits based on incentives and rewards. A third group will receive an unconditional basic income, meaning they'll get paid even if they find new work — or if they make no effort to find a job.

Victor Everhardt, Utrecht's alderman for work and income, thinks the rules around social assistance benefits should be simplified. He tells As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner, "I really think it could benefit a lot of people. It will in the end be an even better approach than the current system where we have all kinds of conditions that people have to live up to."

Everhardt says that, in the Netherlands, there are more job-seekers than available jobs and a highly regulated system with a "lot of bureaucracy around it, and it won't help all those people to get a job in the end."

The project in Utrecht is inspired in part by the Dauphin experiment. Between 1974 and 1979, select residents were given a minimum income. The program is credited with eliminating poverty in the town —until it was killed when the government changed provincially and federally.

Everhardt is determined to see his minimum-income experiment succeed. He says he can't understand people who believe the program will only encourage laziness. He's stated before that the city's research shows fewer than 1.5 per cent of people abuse the welfare system.

For now, he says, more information is needed.

"I didn't find anywhere throughout the world, any ... scientific evidence if it works or not."

Everhardt says the experiment in this case isn't for everyone, just those on social assistance, but he hopes it will provide some answers. If the outcome is positive, he says, then it will be time to decide whether to take the next step and organize it on a larger scale, if possible.

Even then, he says, questions will remain, including how to pay for the program.