Guaranteed income schemes are often dismissed as being too expensive to implement on a large scale, but several cities are trying them out among small subsets of their populations. Giving people even a small financial leg up can go a long way towards bridging the gap between surviving and thriving. The biggest guaranteed income pilot in the US is currently underway in Chicago, where 500 families are receiving $500 per month, with no strings attached, for 12 months.
A far bigger guaranteed income trial will be launching in India later this year. Announced last week by finance minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, the trial will take place in Tamil Nadu, the country’s southernmost state and its seventh-most populous with 81.5 million people.
Called Magalir Urimai Thogai, which in Tamil means “Women’s Right to Assistance,” the trial will give the female heads of eligible households 1,000 rupees per month. That’s somewhere between $12 to $13. It doesn’t sound like much, but the average annual per capita income in Tamil Nadu is around 225,000 rupees ($2,733). That breaks down to $52 a week, and it’s an average; the lowest-income families earn far less.
Specific eligibility guidelines for the program haven’t been finalized yet, but it’s geared towards families living below the poverty line. Recipients will be selected from the state’s TIPPS system (Tamil Nadu Integrated Poverty Portal Service), where data from income and population surveys is stored.
The state’s minister for social welfare and female empowerment, P Geetha Jeevan, said, “The income benefit aimed at supporting impoverished families will not cover the rich, government employees, and a few others. Approximately 80 to 90 lakh women are expected to avail themselves of this benefit.” (A lakh is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to 100,000—so the pilot could benefit up to 9 million women).
While guaranteed income pilots in the US and other countries tend not to be gender-specific, the decision to give these payments exclusively to women in India was very intentional. In short, it’s part of an ongoing effort by the government to reduce long-standing, pronounced gender inequality in the country.
While gender norms won’t change overnight simply because female heads of households receive payments instead of males, this will help break down old stereotypes, as well as giving women a sense of agency and an incentive to understand more about finance. Similarly, a program called Ujjwala was launched in 2016 to provide gas stoves and subsidized cooking gas to poor families—but only women could receive the payments.
Since then, the price of gas has shot up, making refills too expensive for many families (even with the subsidy) and causing some to return to traditional wood-fired stoves, which emit toxic fumes that are harmful to human health. Speaking about the guaranteed income program, Rajan said, “This will be of great help for women heads of families who have been affected adversely by the steep increase in cooking gas prices by the union government and the overall inflation.”
Details about how the results of the payment program will be monitored haven’t been released yet, but as with all such trials, the hope is that by giving families a small extra cushion of financial security, more of their basic needs will be covered, freeing up time and resources to devote to additional pursuits.
Tamil Nadu’s guaranteed income pilot is slated to launch in September of this year.