The impact of Universal Basic Income: A scoping review of evaluations and outcomes

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Social security systems for people who are not working have become increasingly difficult to navigate in many countries around the world. At the same time, many jobs have become less secure, and it is predicted that automation may replace a great deal of low skilled jobs in the coming decades. 

Some people think that a possible solution to these issues would be to give everybody a fixed amount of money regularly, no matter whether they are working or what their income is. This is known as a basic income, often shortened to BI. The amount usually proposed would only be enough to cover very basic living expenses. This could save money on social security bureaucracy, and help people to cope with insecure employment. 

There are many arguments both for and against this proposal, which are often based on predictions about how BI would affect people's behaviour. However, it is not possible to know for certain because a BI which is paid to everyone and is enough to live on has not been tested in any country at any time. It is difficult to know how a BI would affect people's health, and it is not clear if people would stop working or looking for work if they were given this money freely.  

A number of studies of programmes with some similarities to BI have been conducted in a range of contexts. It was not clear how much evidence there was from all of these different studies, so we conducted a scoping review, which is a way of looking for the evidence about a specific question in order to map what is known and what is not known.  

The scoping review found 28 studies of 10 programmes with similarities to BI, which were conducted in many different countries at different times. The evidence from the studies indicated that the effects on how much people worked were very small, and in some studies there was no difference. Some groups, such as small business owners worked more. There were a number of strong positive effects on health outcomes such as low birthweight and mental health, and on educational participation for young people. However, for some health and educational outcomes there were no effects.   

There was also some evidence of positive effects on wider social and economic outcomes such as health service use, expenditure, and economic growth. Some studies reported an increase in accidental mortality linked to substance abuse after payments were distributed, but these involved large lump sums once or twice a year.  

Interest in BIG has grown very rapidly recently, and a number of countries are planning to conduct pilot studies to try to understand what effects a BIG would have. Four Scottish local authorities are now in the early stages of planning pilots, and the findings of the scoping review have informed the feasibility work. 

 

Collaborators

Wendy Hearty, NHS Health Scotland


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