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Living with a basic income: family relationships (part 1/3)

Part 1 of a 3-part series on lessons we’ve drawn from observing the Universal Basic Income Pilot village over the past year.

Phoebe is one of the first 100 people in history to live in a community where everyone receives a guaranteed, long-term basic income. GiveDirectly’s basic income initiative launched in her village in October 2016, testing the operational mechanics but also generating qualitative insights that are now informing the design of our larger, 200-village initiative. As we celebrate the full-scale launch of that larger initiative this week, we look back on what we’ve learned so far, starting with one of the most basic questions: how are family and personal relationships changing?

We gathered information both through our call center (where staff call every recipient) and by conducting focus group discussions, which let us get deeper on specific topics, with a randomly selected 25% of the recipients. You can read the raw responses from calls here and focus group discussions here. (We previously shared responses from earlier rounds of data collection in a separate post.)

A few general observations. First, many recipients reported improvements in their social relationships, particularly within their families. Of these, around half said they’re experiencing more peace and honesty within their family relationships. An equal proportion of men and women feel that the transfers have enabled them to better communicate and share their financial plans with their spouses and family members. Younger recipients tell us they feel more independent in addressing their own needs. Some specific responses that we found particularly interesting:

  • “These transfers have brought more love and understanding between me and my spouse in that we no longer squabble about finances because each of us receives the transfer and so I do not have to nag him over money all the time.” Phoebe, 33
  • “Our interaction has improved and we are always seeking each other’s approval when either of us wants to take up a project something we never used to do previously.” Sarah, 31
  • “My interaction with my family has changed in that we are not uptight about talking about our finances anymore since now my children also have their money and they do not have to ask me to buy them everything.” Pamela, 61

Related to this last comment, virtually all recipients felt that it was a very good decision to pay each individual adult (rather than each household or just some adults). Asked why, 40% of recipients thought this model was good because it gave each person the opportunity to decide what to spend the money on and 30% thought it prevented conflict in the household. This is somewhat different from feedback we’ve received in the past, which emphasized the individual nature of needs as the strongest argument for individual payments. For example,

  • “[An individual transfer] enables one to decide on what they want to spend their money on without being forced to spend on something they do not want.” Millicent, 34
  • “…if everyone gets their own money quarrels and wrangles are reduced because everyone gets to decide for themselves what to spend on.” Sarah, 31
  • “Secondly, as young people, especially girls, this is good because now they don’t seek help from men and this also helps in reducing early and teen pregnancies.” Wycliffe, 21

Like many of our team members, I personally was born and brought up in western Kenya, not far from the villages where basic income is rolling out. For me the accounts these recipients give reflect a great deal of my own childhood experience, and the struggle of poor families to lift off the yoke of poverty. It will be fascinating to see whether these anecdotal reports are born out in the systematic, quantitative data that the research team will be collecting as the full-scale evaluation now rolls out.