The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a regional organism of the United Nations Secretariat has declared itself in favour of a new regime of welfare and social protection that includes the gradual, progressive and sustained establishment of universal basic income in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean.
On May 12th, its executive secretary, Alicia Bárcena, presented the 3rd Special Report COVID-19: the social challenge in times of covid-19, which reads:
To address the socioeconomic impact of the crisis, ECLAC proposes that governments guarantee temporary cash transfers to meet basic needs and support household consumption, which will be crucial to achieving a sound, relatively rapid recovery (p. 14)
The Proposal however, is not limited to this emergency programme which would involve at least one cash transfer, equivalent to a poverty line, for 1/3 of the population, but rather:
From a long-term perspective, ECLAC reiterates that these transfers need to be ongoing, should reach beyond those living in poverty and cover broad strata of the population that are highly vulnerable to falling into poverty, such as the low-income non-poor and the lower-middle income strata. This would make it possible to move towards a universal basic income that could be implemented gradually over a period suited to each country’s situation. (p.15)
ECLAC has held the position now for 10 years that the current dominant development style needs to be replaced, as it has brought low economic growth, high social inequality and accelerated environmental destruction. It has been 10 years since ECLAC highlighted that this should be the hour of equality in Latin America and the Caribbean, and as such has been working on developing and deepening far reaching initiatives and proposals aimed towards building a new style of development centred around a core of equality and sustainability.
This is the perspective that corresponds to the proposals for progressive structural change, equality pacts and the initiative for a great environmental push. Through all these years ECLAC has insisted on and reiterated the need for social policies that are universal and with a focus on rights. In this decade there have been different mentions of the importance of guaranteeing income, of the possibilities of basic income as an emancipation mechanism and the possibility of implementing basic income for women as a tool for building their economic autonomy. Now, ECLAC is declaring the need for universal basic income and rates it, beyond the emergency and the short-term, as a strategic objective.
Facing the profound weaknesses in the welfare and social protection regimes that have been laid bare by the pandemic, and the unprecedented growth in the volume of cash transfers that, through different modes, have been implemented by the region’s governments, the interest in basic income has grown exponentially. Its appeal is not only philosophical, but also includes its power and utility for solving practical problems and achieving an immediate, opportune and far-reaching impact.
It has been said many times that the most intense debates are not solved by new arguments, but rather by great outcomes. This seems to be the case for the basic income proposal, a proposal whose debate, analysis and experimentation increased significantly after the great recession of 2008-2009 and which has placed itself, with a previously unknown force up until a few weeks ago, into the public and political spheres of various countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is an idea whose time, it seems, has arrived.
The question regarding what would have been the impact and dynamic of the pandemic if instead of having highly precarious and unprotected societies there had been a practical, operating basic income is ever more present. We would surely be talking about a different story in terms of poverty and inequality and uncertainty. Likewise, the physical distancing and home confinement measures involving people that, facing a sudden loss of income had to continue going out into the street to try and earn a survival income, would have been implemented more successfully and with less suffering.
Due to all this, ECLAC highlights the importance of having a universal basic income, within the broad framework of a welfare state and a strong social protection system. That is, basic income as an additional pillar for a new welfare regime, where most importantly the fragmentation, hierarchization and commodification of health services must be overcome, as the same document states.
Regarding the types of policies to be implemented, ECLAC says:
Before the pandemic, the social situation in the region had been deteriorating since 2014 in terms of poverty and extreme poverty, with a slowdown in the pace of inequality reduction.
- In view of the major persistent gaps that the pandemic has widened, ECLAC reiterates that it is time to implement universal, redistributive and solidarity-based policies with a rights-based approach, to ensure that no one is left behind.
- From a rights and welfare perspective, emergency responses rooted in social protection must be developed to avoid a serious deterioration in living conditions.
- Social protection responses must link the short-term measures needed to address the most acute manifestations of the crisis to medium- and long-term measures aimed at guaranteeing the exercise of people’s rights, by strengthening the welfare State and providing universal social protection. (p. 18)
If the covid-19 pandemic is, as Ignacio Ramonet says, a comprehensive social fact, the least that can be done is to learn from it and to understand that social precariousness and the fragility of life cannot be part of the new normal, of the new post-pandemic reality. So much suffering for so many people cannot be and must not be, repeated or assumed to be natural.
This article was originally published in Spanish at Sin Permiso. www.sinpermiso.info
Regional Research Coordinator for the subregional headquarter of ECLAC in Mexico. The opinions stated here may not be those of the United Nations System.