It is a very rare privilege, and in its way humbling, to be able to test a policy that one has advocated over many years. It is also a responsibility, since one must do whatever one can to be objective and allow for the possibility that it will fail.
Starting in 2010, the opportunity to test the idea of a basic income as a development policy became feasible in India. Working with SEWA and others, we developed a project to launch what turned out to be three pilots, the first one being a small-scale 'substitution' project in west Delhi, in which households were given a choice of staying with rations under the PDS or taking a monthly basic income of equivalent value. This pilot was made possible through a grant from UNDP.
The second was launched in eight villages of Madhya Pradesh, where nearly 6,000 men, women and children received a monthly basic income individually, in cash, unconditionally and universally, for 18 months, with the money for the children being paid to the mother or a surrogate. The outcomes were compared over time and with the experience in the same period of everybody in 12 otherwise similar villages.
The third was a small pilot in two tribal villages. In one, every man, woman and child received a basic income; in the other nobody did.
The second and third pilots were made possible through the generous support of UNICEF New Delhi. The methodology for the largest pilot could be described as mongrel randomised control trial. We ruled out comparing the impact of an unconditional cash transfer scheme with a conditional one on the grounds that conditionality is inherently non-moral. We also ruled out the standard RCT practice of providing individuals and households randomly, on the pragmatic grounds that there would be spoiling effects if next door neighbours did not have the basic income. So, the random sampling was at the village level.
A unique feature of the largest pilot was that it tested for the impact of the basic income and the independent effect of the presence of a collective body that could protect and enhance the interests of vulnerable households and individuals in villages.
In short, this project has given real meaning to the provision of an economic floor. The main results have been summarised in a book just published (flyer attached) and in a long technical report that will be made available through UNICEF New Delhi. Other articles will follow.
The key claims are these:
1. A basic income of the sort tested in this project is feasible and affordable, particularly if substituted for just part of the costly, inefficient and corrupt Public Distribution System and/or the similarly riddled MGNREGS.
2. The emancipatory value of the basic income is greater than the monetary value.
3. The presence of an intermediary collective body does make a positive difference on several types of outcome, particularly in the economic sphere.
4. A basic income results in increased economic activity and work.
5. The groups who benefit most in various respects, notably health and nutrition, are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
6. Even a short-term basic income has longer-term positive effects, helping to break cultural and social barriers and liberating individuals, most notably in overcoming debt bondage.
Our methodology and the analysis we have done are not ideal. There is much more work to be done. However, the combination of three rounds of extensive evaluation surveys, detailed case studies and secondary data analysis provide what we hope is a coherent narrative of a promising development tool that should be tested and expanded in many other places.
A formal launch of the book was made in Delhi in early December. A second launch will take place in Bloomsbury's London offices at 18.30 on January 27. Anybody in the vicinity would be welcome to come to that. Further details can be supplied.
A Happy New Year to all of you.
Dr Guy Standing,
Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences
Professor in Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies,
University of London.
Co-President, Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN)
Latest book: A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)
The Precariat on Facebook Indian basic income pilot video