Who funds this project?
WorkFREE is funded by the European Research Council through what is known as a ‘Starting Grant’. Its grant number is 805425.
There are many reasons why this pilot takes place in India. First, key team members like Sarath Davala are based in India and have huge experience in piloting UBI there. India is also one of the countries in the world where the UBI debate is most advanced and thus a study like this could be most impactful. From a thematic standpoint, debates around labour exploitation and ‘unfreedom’ are also important in India. But, undoubtedly, what we do here could be replicated elsewhere. It is our hope that, in time, we will do just that!
Who receives UBI and community organising support? And why?
Our WorkFREE pilot takes place in four informal settlements (or bastis) in Hyderabad, India. All residents of these bastis (approximately 1250 people/350 households) will receive an unconditional basic income for a period of 18 months. In addition they will receive community organising support for 24 months. Residents are primarily first or second generation migrants from the surrounding regions. The majority are from Scheduled Castes, and almost all make their living primarily from waste picking or domestic service. They are poor and their tenancy rights are consistently under threat.
We have chosen to work with these communities for a number of reasons. First, because they all have existing relationships with our local partner, The Montfort Social Institute, and we believe that these relationships offer a safeguard against potential harm. Second, because they make their livelihoods through work that is characteristic of what international organisations like the ILO term ‘indecent’ or ‘exploitative’. Piloting with them thus offers us a chance to explore the extent to which UBI and UBI+ could advance ‘decent’ work. Third, their poverty, insecurity and marginality are emblematic of the structural inequality and exclusion experienced by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Therefore, piloting with these communities should tell us important things about how and to what extent UBI+ could contribute to large-scale, pro-poor social protection reform.
When will the results be ready?
Our first set of findings are likely to be available in late 2022. We anticipate final findings to be available in 2023 and 2024.
Why does community organising support outlast the UBI?
The community organising support lasts for 24 months while the UBI payments last for 18 months. We’ve done this to ease the transition away from receiving a UBI. Our goal is to limit any adverse effects that may arise from stopping payments.
Is 18 months enough time for a UBI trial?
Ideally, recipients of a UBI would receive the cash permanently. Any time-bound trial will not truly reflect the potential impact of a permanent UBI on people’s lives. However, providing regular, unconditional cash payments for 18 months will undoubtedly feel like a significant amount of time to receive additional cash for the low-income participants in this project.
A number of recent studies have found that being poor makes it harder to plan for the long-term (Sheehy-Skeffington and Rea, 2017; Shah, Mullainathan and Shafir, 2012). Not only is this because people have to focus on meeting their essential needs first, but because the pressures of being poor actually reduce our cognitive abilities to think about the long-term. The immediate needs of the short term and the detrimental impact of poverty on the brain helps to explain why many poor people seemingly make ‘bad decisions’ for the long-term. In light of this, we believe that an 18-month UBI trial is long enough to make a significant impact on the day-to-day financial realities of the participants in this project. If grinding poverty reduces people’s capacity for long-term thinking, then the reverse could also be true. That is, alleviating poverty and financial insecurity will empower people to make more advantageous long-term decisions on social and economic issues, such as health, education and employment.
Our choice of time period furthermore captures a single ‘cycle’ of expenditure. Most people’s life cycles are units of 12 months, something that is even more pronounced in rural areas due to the recurring crop cycles. From the point of view of household economy, a 12-month period covers most of the recurring expenses like school fees, healthcare expenses for seasonal illnesses, festivals and social obligations, and so on. We have included an additional three months on either end to cushion the disruption caused by the pilot’s institution and cessation, producing a soft lead in and lead out with a solid 12 month cycle in between.
Eighteen months is fairly typical for a UBI trial. A previous trial in Madhya Pradesh lasted for 17 months and this produced significant findings on the potential impact of UBI on health, education, entrepreneurship and gender equality. Recent trials in Stockton, California and Finland lasted a little longer – at two years.
Won't this mess with participants' lives?
This is an important question and one we take very seriously. We have spent hours reflecting on and written tens of thousands of words about our plans to ensure that this project takes place in the most ethical fashion possible. We have received ethics clearance for it from the review boards of the European Research Council, the University of Bath (UK), and Krea University (India). Please see the ethics section of this website for more detail.