HELSINKI — Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, amounting to $587, in a unique social experiment which is hoped to cut government red tape, reduce poverty and boost employment.

Olli Kangas from the Finnish government agency KELA, which is responsible for the country’s social benefits, said Monday that the two-year trial with the 2,000 randomly picked citizens who receive unemployment benefits kicked off Jan. 1.

Those chosen will receive $587 every month, with no reporting requirements on how they spend it. The amount will be deducted from any benefits they already receive.

Kangas said the idea is to abolish the “disincentive problem” among the unemployed.

The trial aims to discourage people’s fears “of losing out something,” he said, adding that the selected persons would continue to receive the $587 even after getting a job.

A jobless person may currently refuse a low-income or short-term job in the fear of having his financial benefits reduced drastically under Finland’s generous but complex social security system.

“It’s highly interesting to see how it makes people behave,” Kangas said. “Will this lead them to boldly experiment with different kinds of jobs? Or, as some critics claim, make them lazier with the knowledge of getting a basic income without doing anything?”

The unemployment rate of Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, stood at 8.1 percent in November with some 213,000 people without a job – unchanged from the previous year.

The scheme is part of the measures by the center-right government of Prime Minister Juha Sipila to tackle Finland’s joblessness problem.


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