As in other countries, the coronavirus shutdown makes the economic situation increasingly precarious for many people. For many, this is a sudden new experience, especially for self-employed people who have no reserves and do not receive short-time work benefits. It is true that in Germany the payment of the subsistence minimum by the social welfare office (approx. 400 €/month) is being administered generously in the crisis, but bureaucratic hurdles remain, and for many people it is simply too little to be able to pay their current living costs in view of a total loss of income. Also, the income of partners and roommates is still taken into account.
In this situation, a number of very successful petitions quickly emerged. The largest, with 460,000 signatures in four weeks, is the collection launched by designer Tonia Merz ‘With the unconditional Basic Income through the corona crisis’. It demands an unconditional Basic Income for 6 months. The argument is based on the plight of the self-employed, artists, etc. in particular: they do receive loans, but how are those supposed to be paid back if no income can be expected for several months (or even years)?
However, the petition points out that the Basic Income should not only apply to the particularly affected group of the small self-employed enterprise. That is understandable, because administrators cannot judge each case fairly. For example, it is not possible to determine whether someone is a ‘full-time’ self-employed person, an artist or not, and so on. Many are self-employed in addition to other mini-jobs. The 6 months Basic Income should therefore be given to everyone – and at the same time it should be a test for the principle of an unconditional Basic Income in general.
In addition, there is a similar petition with 288,000 signatures from countertenor David Erler entitled ‘Help for freelancers and artists during the Corona shutdown’, which is explicitly aimed at freelancers and demands ‘unbureaucratic bridging money, e.g. in the form of a temporary (unconditional) basic income’. (This income does not quite conform to the definition of a Basic Income because it is not universal.)
Both public petitions are, however, legally non-binding, even though they reach a large public, and many people have thus committed themselves to a Basic Income for the first time. But there is also a very successful official petition to the German Parliament. It comes from the Basic Income activist Susanne Wiest. It calls for the introduction of an unconditional Basic Income for all citizens ‘in the short term and for a limited period of time, but for as long as necessary’ due to the economic impact of the Corona pandemic. It should ‘secure livelihoods and enable participation in society. An amount of 1000 € per person is conceivable’.
Such parliament petitions have some small hurdles to overcome when signing: You have to register, then you get a password etc. Therefore, the figures cannot be compared with informal petitions. Nevertheless this petition reached 176,000 signatures in four weeks: The electronic petition with the highest number of supporters ever.
Since the quorum of 50,000 was reached, the initiator must now be heard in a public meeting of the Petitions Committee and the proposal must be discussed in the Parliament. This will certainly lead to a further upswing in media coverage and the social discussion about a Basic Income in the crisis, but also about the general idea, as has been clearly felt in recent weeks.
This is because the justification for a Basic Income in the Corona crisis is the same as the justification for a Basic Income in general. It gives everyone a basic security in the event of economic crises or downturns, regardless of how they are triggered: By a virus, by ecological restrictions, or by a change in consumer habits and production structures.