The first comprehensive scoping review of 28 studies of ten interventions which unconditionally provided substantial cash transfers to individuals or families.


Graphic with lots of differently-coloured circles with pound signs inside themThere is increasing political and academic interest in the potential effects of implementing a universal basic income scheme in which all individuals are unconditionally provided with a substantial, regular sum of money on a long-term basis.

While a universal basic income has never been implemented, there have been a number of interventions which involve the unconditional provision of a substantial amount of money to individuals or households. We conducted a scoping review to identify evidence on the design, evaluation and impacts of such interventions.

This is the first study to use scoping review methods to systematically identify, extract, and interpret evidence from relevant studies. Data from the included studies extends our understanding of the effects of these interventions and will be of use for planning of pilot interventions and evaluations.

The reviewers identified 28 studies of ten interventions conducted in a wide range of settings. Some of these provided unconditional cash transfers to large populations on a permanent basis. The intervention designs were diverse, and they were conducted in a wide range of contexts. Where similar effects are reported for dissimilar interventions, confidence in the findings is strengthened.

Evaluations used a range of experimental, quasi-experimental and qualitative study designs. Confidence in the findings of a number of included studies was reduced by small samples, multiple intervention arms, or by poor standards of reporting. However, a number of studies used large samples and robust quasi-experimental methods.

Summary of findings

The study found evidence on labour market participation, health, education, and a range of social and economic outcomes.

The evidence from diverse interventions and settings suggests that impacts on labour market participation are small for male heads, and for men and women in contemporary studies. In groups where reductions in labour market activity occurred, time seems to have been channelled into other productive activities. There is also consistent evidence that children and young people spend longer in education. Although less consistent, there is evidence of positive impacts on some health and social outcomes. Some studies reported spillover or wider economic effects such as reductions in health service use and increases in business activity.

A number of studies used innovative quasi-experimental methods to provide robust evidence in situations where randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were impracticable. Future studies should aim to include large samples and test a simple intervention. Using economic evaluation to assess any effects on service use and wider economic impacts would provide data on the net costs and benefits of basic income.

Download the publication

Universal basic income – a scoping review of evidence on impacts and study characteristics (pdf)

More details

Author: Dr Marcia Gibson, Wendy Hearty, Dr Peter Craig

Date of publication: October 2018

Type of publication: Scoping review