A universal basic income: the answer to poverty, insecurity, and health inequality?

British Medical Journal


For four years in the mid-1970s an unusual experiment took place in the small Canadian town of Dauphin. Statistically significant benefits for those who took part included fewer physician contacts related to mental health and fewer hospital admissions for “accident and injury.” Mental health diagnoses in Dauphin also fell. Once the experiment ended, these public health benefits evaporated.1 What was the treatment being tested? It was what has become known as a basic income—a regular, unconditional payment made to each and every citizen. This ground breaking experiment, an early randomised trial in the social policy sphere, ran out of money before full statistical analysisafter a loss of political interest.

The link between inequality and poor health outcomes is long established.2 The actual mechanisms behind that link are less understood. The data from the Dauphin study, re-examined by a team from the University of Manitoba in the 2000s, suggest there might be an association between income insecurity and poorer health.1 All adults in Dauphin earning below $13 800 (£11 000; €13 000) were eligible for the grant of $4800 a year. The researchers compared Dauphin with other similar towns and looked for relative improvements in outcomes using public health and schooling data from the time.

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