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The Universal Basic Income is becoming a popular topic again - and if you’re not familiar with UBI, you could start by reading this definition. The majority of the research on the topic and most of UBI experiments have been conducted either in economically advanced countries (Canada, Finland, the Netherlands) or in the countries with high levels of poverty (Kenya, Namibia, India).

Why is UNDP joining this conversation? Because, moving beyond pilots, UBI is a signal of a broader research and policy debate that we at UNDP believe we need to have in a much more coordinated and global manner.  This debate centers on fundamentally rethinking the social contract and welfare system in the age of increasingly fluid, mobile labor force, rising waves of migration, and 4th industrial revolution technologies. The current social welfare systems find it increasingly harder to deal with the broad global changes impacting labor market dynamics. Serbia experiences yearly loss of people due to outmigration, a large informal labour market, significant inequalities, and a quarter of the population still at risk of poverty. The social welfare costs in Serbia constitute a significant part of the national budget and given the country-specific and global trends outlined above, Serbia will have to further improve its welfare system. Thus, UNDP believes it is very timely to contribute to the policy discussion around reforms of the social welfare system, including through policy experimentation.

With all this in mind, in 2017, UNDP Serbia gathered a team of experts who carried out a research to assess the conditions for a UBI approach in Serbia, as well as to initiate a public discussion on the design of a potential UBI experiment. Relevant government officials and NGO representatives attended presentations of key research milestones and, together with UNDP, participated in the UBI Conference organized by the London School of Economics and Political Science in February 2018 in London,

The research outcomes already provide rich arguments towards the policy debate in Serbia, and contribute to the global body of research about UBI; academia started discussing reasons for and against UBI and the policy debate is gaining momentum.

Considering a potential UBI experiment in Serbia, the research team presented four target groups and scenarios, predominantly focused on the positive and negative impact of UBI on three key aspects of poverty reduction: labor market participation, individual health outcomes, and household financial well-being. UNDP is now discussing the experiment options, its duration, its’ geographical location in the municipality of Nis (South Serbia) and with its national counterparts in the Government of Serbia, as such an experiment is most useful when its results and lessons learnt feed directly into decision making and policy processes.

In addition to the experimentation, UNDP will remain engaged in the substantive conversation on UBI in partnership with LSE, focusing on experimental policy design in global context to support Governments address the challenges of the hyper-changing world.  We see it as a step toward rethinking ‘work’, as an opportunity to redefine what we mean by work, to encourage access to skills, (coproduction of) knowledge, engaging with various forms of social and ecological ‘service’ and ‘life callings.’ 

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