Amongst its advocates, one of the key arguments for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is its potential to improve population mental health. However, while previous authors have variously examined the potential effects of UBI on income, employment and labour market demand, the direct mental health consequences of previous pilots have been less frequently examined. The purpose of this paper is therefore to conduct a review of the literature on UBI and to re-examine the existing research with a mental health focus.
Six electronic databases were used to conduct a review of the literature. We searched for empirical research studies of any design, conducted since the year 2000 in High Income Countries, exploring the effects of interventions similar to a UBI on the mental health of children or working-age adults. Grey literature and government reports were also included.
A total of 1566 articles were screened of which seven peer reviewed studies and eight governmental reports were ultimately selected for inclusion. None of the identified studies directly compared the impact of individual payments with those made on a household basis, or the effects of payments which were truly universal. However, several studies evaluated the mental health outcomes associated with payments provided unconditionally, and consistently reported clear and significant improvements in mental wellbeing. Potential mediating factors included improved time with family and friends, a reduction in perceived stigma and a renewed sense of hope for the future.
Our review has produced evidence to suggest that prophesies surrounding the mental health benefits of a UBI are at least partially justified. However, future studies should aim to be conducted at an area level, with an adequately powered sample size, and investigate interventions of a considerable duration using a longitudinal design.
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