On April 21, President Ramaphosa announced a 500 Billion Rand relief package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The package includes top-ups for existing cash transfer recipients and the introduction of an emergency ‘corona virus grant’. The emergency grant will be given to unemployed individuals who are not eligible for the contributory Unemployment Insurance Fund and informal workers who are unable to work during the lockdown.
The announcement of the relief package follows the submission of an open letter to President Ramaphosa by a group of 75 economists and academics calling for the adoption of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). South Africa already has an impressive system of cash transfers in place and therefore has the infrastructure required in order to get people cash. Over 30 per cent of the population and approximately 44 per cent of households receive a government-funded cash transfer each month. Despite the impressive reach of South Africa’s social grant system, it has historically excluded working-age adults.
The government’s inclusion of working-age adults in the emergency corona virus grant is a landmark step in the history of South Africa’s social assistance system. Under the emergency grant, working-age unemployed adults will receive R350 a month for six months beginning in May. Recipients of the existing Child Support Grant, South Africa’s most widely received grant, will receive an extra R300 in May, and an extra R500 from June until October – more than double the existing grant (R440 as of April 2020).
The inclusion of working-age adults has come after several failed attempts to extend the country’s social grant system to working-age adults over the last two decades. The first was a proposal for a Basic Income Grant made by a government-appointed social protection committee in the early 2000s. The second was the push for a Job Seekers’ Grant by the governing African National Congress in 2012, which would have provided cash transfers to the working-age population in order to help people look for work. This too made little headway and the proposal was eventually scrapped.
The adoption of the corona virus grant may help set the stage for the future adoption of UBI. Despite previous failed attempts to extend the cash transfer system to working-age adults, Basic Income – and different variations of it – has not been completely removed from South Africa’s policy debates. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the holes in the country’s existing cash transfer system and may make it impossible to go back to the way things were, even if the emergency grant has only been promised for six months.
The Dutch government has implemented a new programme for self-employed individuals who have suffered a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the Temporary bridging measure for self-employed professionals (Tozo). The new arrangement entitles individuals who are self-employed to up to 1050 Euros per month for single individuals or up to 1500 Euros per month for couples for a total of three months.
After the 2008 financial crisis, thousands of individuals who applied for unemployment benefits – known as Bijstand – had to sell their homes before they were able to qualify. A notable feature of the new arrangement is that an individual’s eligibility is not reliant on whether or not they own a house or have any other assets. This is seen as a step forward for those would like to see the adoption of a Basic Income in the Netherlands.
The new arrangement does not, however, meet the criteria for a Basic Income for a number of reasons. BIEN’s definition of a basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirements. Under BIEN’s definition, a Basic Income has five key criteria: it is unconditional of income, there is no work requirement, it is individual, it is universal, and it is periodic.
It does not meet the first requirement as the new programme only includes individuals whose monthly income has fallen under the national minimum. It meets the second criterion in that there is no work requirement. It does not meet the third, fourth or fifth requirements as it is not individual (as less is paid to individuals in a couple) or universal, and it will only be provided temporarily. It is however quite generous as it is in line with the living wage.
While the new arrangement does not meet BIEN’s UBI criteria, it has helped to give UBI supporters the footing they need to push the Basic Income agenda further. Alexander de Roo, member of the Green Party and chairman of the Basic Income Network Netherlands, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, calling for the adoption of a temporary UBI in response to COVID-19 and a permanent UBI to be implemented after the general election in March 2021.
The open letter referred to in this article can be found here. (Readers might wish to be aware that ‘Basisinkomen’ as used in this letter does not always accord with BIEN’s definition of Basic Income)
Ann Wheatley (from the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income). Picture credit to: CBC
Despite the dismantling of Ontario’s Basic Income pilot after the election of the Conservative Party in the 2018 provincial election, basic income continues to play a critical role in Canadian politics, both at the provincial and national level. Leading up to the 2019 federal election, the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Working Group for a Liveable Income decorated doors across the province with doorhangers that read, “Eliminating poverty matters to voters who live here.” The doorhangers would help spread the message to candidates when they came to do their usual canvasing before the election on October 21st.
The Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, emerged as the winner in the election, forming a minority government after only securing a narrow victory. The Liberal Party, who officially supports a basic income guarantee, won in all ridings across PEI. Regardless of the setback in Ontario, basic income continues to be an important issue to Canadian voters.
More information at:
Yarr K.,“‘Sorry to have missed you’: Poverty activists turn tables on door-knocking politicians”, CBC, September 30th 2019
“Canadian federal election 2019: Live results map and riding-by-riding vote counts”, Maclean’s, October 21st 2019