activism development generosity poverty

Can you help to pilot the basic income?

I write about the basic income (or citizen’s income) from time to time on this blog. It’s an idea that is being discussed quite seriously in a number of places at the moment, but we’re a long way from seeing it implemented in Britain. You can support the idea elsewhere, however. If you’re an advocate and would like to see it piloted, an opportunity is opening up to get involved.

One of the big problems with the basic income is that it hasn’t really been tested, making it a nice idea in theory, but hard to argue for objectively. There have been a number of programmes and experiments in the past that have come close, but none have met all the criteria of being universal, basic, and long term enough to draw any real conclusions. Other pilot programmes have been proposed, but a genuine basic income remains an untried idea – and therefore, as far as many opponents are concerned, a policy of wishful thinking.

Give Directly are sufficiently convinced of the merits of the basic income that they want to remedy this situation and organise a basic income experiment of their own. They’re a charity that specialises in cash transfers (I wrote about them here). You give them a donation, and they give it as directly as possible to a poorer household in a developing country. They aim to cut out the middle man, and their experience over the years shows that this works rather well. Sceptics might assume that people waste the money they’re given, but the evidence shows that they very rarely do. It makes a real difference. So what if you could scale up the cash transfers and fund a basic income for a whole community?

Give Directly are proposing a full scale pilot, run over a decade and using a randomized control trial approach to make fair comparisons. It will run in Kenya, with 6,000 people, for 10 to 15 years. It’s a whole lot cheaper to do this in a developing country, where $30 million can provide a basic income for a large enough sample. (It would cost a billion to do the same experiment in the global north.) $10 million of that cost will come from their own funds, and the other two thirds will be donated. So if you’re interested in the basic income, here’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is and make it happen. You can donate here.

If you’re one of those people who is mainly interested in a citizen’s income for themselves, then I realise this may not appeal – but all in good time. If it can be proven to work , other countries will try it. And if it doesn’t work? As Give Directly say: “at a minimum our money will shift the life trajectories of thousands of low-income households. At best, it will change how the world thinks about ending poverty.”


  1. I do not like to pour cold water on a well-intentioned idea, but this one is utterly pointless. You might as well give your money directly to the families’ landlords, who are probably better off than any of us. This is why – from a speech made by Winston Churchill in 1909.

    “Some years ago in London there was a toll bar on a bridge across the Thames, and all the working people who lived on the south side of the river had to pay a daily toll of one penny for going and returning from their work. The spectacle of these poor people thus mulcted of so large a proportion of their earnings offended the public con-science, and agitation was set on foot, municipal authorities were roused, and at the cost of the taxpayers, the bridge was freed and the toll removed. All those people who used the bridge were saved sixpence a week, but within a very short time rents on the south side of the river were found to have risen about sixpence a week, or the amount of the toll which had been remitted!

    And a friend of mine was telling me the other day that, in the parish of Southwark, about 350 pounds a year was given away in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of the churches. As a consequence of this charity, the competition for small houses and single-room tenements is so great that rents are considerably higher in the parish!

    All goes back to the land, and the land owner is able to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit, however important or however pitiful those benefits may be.”

    1. I’m with you on the importance of land reform, but surely you’d need to know the situation on the ground before you dismiss the experiment as pointless. What are the rates of home ownership in Kenyan villages?

      1. Except that with the right sort of land reform, people would not need people from the west handing out money, and if the country wanted to run a basic income scheme, there would already be the revenue to pay for it.l

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