The local organising committee for the 2021 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress in Glasgow are very excited to announce our call for papers for this virtual, online event.
We are inviting you to submit papers and pitches for talks, workshops and other activities that should be represented online at the 22nd BIEN Congress. To submit yours please follow this link.
The theme for the Congress is ‘Idea to Reality’. We want to consider how we take basic income from a big idea for big change to a reality.
The Congress will be hosted digitally only from Thursday 18th – Saturday 21st August 2021. Exact details are to be confirmed but this will be a programme packed with perspectives on basic income in Scotland, the wider UK and around the world.
We will present insights into the status of basic income in Scotland, including: the feasibility study into a Scottish BI experiment, political attitudes and work on basic income, civil society perspectives, creative and cultural demonstrations that represent the Scottish debate.
We welcome your contribution to the Congress. To submit your proposal for consideration please complete this proposal form before the deadline Friday 12 March 2021.
We will be encouraging presenters to submit their papers before the Congress so that they are available for all participants, as attendance will be online only. The changed circumstances of this Congress mean that access to papers and presentations in advance will be more important and inclusive for all. Having these available online will also facilitate feedback and review by a wider range of participants and so improve the potential submission to Basic Income Studies and other outlets. We would welcome the presentations by 6th August 2021.
Papers presented at the BIEN congress will go into the pool of papers to be submitted for the Basic Income Studies prize winning essay of 2021, if submitted by October 1st – the annual deadline for the BIS Prize entry.
To be considered for the BIS prize, papers would have to be of the standard scholarly format and length of academic paper journal submissions. The editors of Basic Income Studies also encourage submissions of congress papers of a suitable format to the regular review process. Papers entered this way will also be considered for the prize’.
The prize is normally judged by a committee of the editors and two additional appointed judges. For the detail of the prize, please see: https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/bis/bis-overview.xml
(From Mike Danson, Chair BIEN 2021 Congress Organising Committee)
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is meant to provide financial security and address job losses. Africa is one continent where UBI is critical. During the COVID-19 outbreak that has rendered many people jobless, it could have been used to prevent them from sliding into poverty.
Universal Basic Income is unconditional cash transfers to recipients guaranteed by the government. Recipients are entitled to the income regardless they are earning or not. The universal basic income is not taxable and recipients can use it for any of their needs. The government has no obligation to follow up on how the payment is used.
Currently, there is no country with a Universal Basic Income in Africa, but there are schemes that can help transition toward a UBI policy. There have been trials in some countries in Africa, such as Kenya, Uganda and Namibia. The trials that were conducted in the three African countries showed positive results. What benefits can we expect from a universal basic income in Africa?
Eliminate Poverty by Generating Income
By introducing Universal Basic Income in Africa, recipients can improve their financial status from low-income earners to medium-income earners. The recipients will have more disposable income to cater to their needs.
This would have been beneficial at the time when many Africans have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Basic income will help to support families and prevent them from sliding into poverty.
Ease of Access to Education for Children
With the guarantee of basic income, children can access education without having to work to support their parents. The lack of income leads to increased school dropouts and consequently early marriages.
Children drop out of school to help their parents generate additional income through informal employment. When casual jobs are not available, children get married early to seek solace and financial support from their spouses.
Providing basic income would help children stay in school since they do not have to look for employment to support their families. While children are in school, early marriages can be eliminated and help them gain an education and live a dignified life.
Promote Entrepreneurship and Increase Job Opportunities
Through UBI, people will have access to more disposable income. When people have access to disposable income, they can take risks and start businesses.
Starting a business requires some capital and enough funding before it can start generating revenue. Basic income can be directed to startups since the government needs not to follow up on how it is used.
The impact of basic income is that people can take risks and start businesses that will consequently create job opportunities. Companies will also help the economy through corporate taxes and income taxes.
Improve Mental and Physical Health
Basic income helps people lead a better life, improving their physical and mental health. The lack of disposable income to cater for the basic needs leads to stress and depression, pushing people to live in deplorable living conditions. Moreover, the lack of income hinders people from accessing health insurance.
The same way the government provides free health and education, it is also best that African governments invest in UBI for the financial security of their citizens. With disposable incomes, recipients can secure health insurance and live a dignified life.
A study carried out by GiveDirectly Organization in 63 Kenyan villages, provided each adult 0.75 dollars per day. The results of the study showed that recipients had an improvement in consumption and well-being. The recipients increased their investments in livestock and home improvement.
Financial and Social Inclusion
The problem of social inclusion is rampant in Africa. The lack of basic income leads to social marginalization, preventing people from accessing modern services like insurance, bank services and technology, such as access to mobile phones.
UBI would help to alleviate social marginalization by assisting people in accessing modern services.
For instance, the government can remit basic income through banks or mobile transfers. As such, people will open bank accounts and buy mobile phones to receive the money. This way, marginalized people can enjoy modern services.
Reduce Financial Gaps between the Rich and the Poor
One of the ways to fund Universal Basic Income is through taxes. Income taxes can lead to a fair distribution of wealth by taxing high-income earners and reducing wealth gaps. Africa is the leading continent with huge income disparities between the high-income earners and low-income earners.
Low skilled workers barely get incremental increases in their wages, pushing them into adverse poverty with increasing inflation. Through UBI, the government can tax high-income earners and redistribute the proceeds to low-income earners.
Family Cohesiveness and Stability
In many African countries, there is domestic violence due to the inability to cater to family needs and depression. The survivors of domestic violence cannot leave their spouses because they lack a stable income. If the survivors can access basic income, they can leave their spouses and meet their basic needs.
Also, if there is a guaranteed income, depression and stress can be eliminated, reducing domestic violence.
In many African countries such as Kenya, parents give birth to many children for cheap labour and security during their old age. If there is a guarantee of regular income, parents would not need to raise many children to support them when they grow old.
How to Fund the Universal Basic Income in Africa
There are many ways through which African governments can fund Universal Basic Income through taxes and creativity. These are some of the ways to finance the Universal Basic Income in Africa.
Reducing Government Expenditures
Reducing government expenditures can set aside some monies that can be directed to fund basic incomes. African governments can reduce some funding to revenue-generating state corporations. Some of the revenues they generate can be directed to the basic income initiative. Most of the recurrent expenditures for government institutions can be halted.
Higher Taxes for High-Income Earners
Through higher taxes from higher-income earners, governments can generate funds to finance basic income initiatives. It would also help to reduce income disparities between the rich and the poor. For instance, governments can introduce a luxury tax and wealth tax above a fixed net worth.
Increase Corporate Taxes and Reduce Financial Benefits to Leaders
African governments can increase corporate taxes by three percent to generate additional revenue for UBI. Additionally, governments can reduce some benefits for politicians. The monies can be redirected to a basic income to promote recipient welfare.
African governments should invest in basic income for its citizens. Basic income is equally important in a nation like other social amenities such as health and education. It leads to general wellbeing, social cohesion, and productivity. In addition, by affording basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing, citizens live a dignified life. Finally, basic income will promote mental health. Poverty and social injustice can lead to poor mental health and related illnesses.
Vincent Nyoike is a Kenyan research writer with vast writing experience. He is a graduate of the University of Eldoret with a degree in Applied Statistics with Computing. He has also pursued a course in Certified Public Accountant. From his experience in business, he enjoys writing on finance and business topics, with a particular focus on Africa. He also works on SEO projects for private international organisations.
Rampant disparities within the capital/labor share, increased pressure on climatically vulnerable communities and mass international migration due to economic hardship or violence. All that without mentioning the ever-haunting specter of automation-induced unemployment and, finally, the outbreak of a world-reaching pandemic: these are some of the ongoing cataclysmic trends that are making an ever increasing number of academics, policymakers and multilateral organizations revisit the adoption of Universal Basic Income (UBI) models. The idea of furnishing guaranteed, unconditional and universal basic income for people within an assigned geographical locality – and potentially the entire globe – has ebbed and flown from the pages of authors of all walks of the political spectrum for over two centuries. It appears, though, that such an idea is regaining momentum at this point in history, a somewhat unexpected moment, given the worldwide rise of nationalistic and illiberalism worldviews. The ambition of this proposal is not to promote an exhaustive comparative assessment of competing proposals currently taking place – or being aspired at – around the world. Instead, this working paper stands as an introductory effort to be followed by a more robust case study of existing schemes, which should bind them under the theories of Multipolarity. This proposal launches the cornerstone of a debate assessing the concrete costs and political coordination challenges that are likely to arise in a scenario of massive and ideally genuine universal effort to start or scale-up existing UBI initiatives through the deployment of digital financing techniques, including its most disruptive variations such as cryptocurrencies.
See the full text here
Written by: Julio Lucchesi Moraes and Carlos Freire
Related article by Daniel Mermelstein: Basic Income and cryptocurrency
Goa Foundation and the Goenchi Mati Movement advocate for a fair mining and intergenerational equity model defining it as commons, which you can read in this article and the other resources. They develop a vision of maintaining the wealth coming from selling inherited minerals to serve the broader community and not just the privileged few. One of their proposals is citizens’ dividend, which, they argue, will “create a strong bond between the citizen and their commons“. According to the calculation mentioned by the Research Director of Goa Foundation, Rahul Basu, every citizen in Goa would receive a commons dividend of thousand rupees a month if the fund were managed according to their proposals. I outline how this proposal may be enhanced by deepening the commons as a philosophy and governance model, which is already incorporated in their blueprint. Instead of focusing on just giving cash transfers, I would ask how the money can create sustainability. This is a big issue in the context of environmental disruption by short-term thinking. Wealth distribution can liberate from the incentives that poverty produces. You have the chance of posing and giving space to these important questions.
The answer may need a long time and a lot of expertise but the results may be not only aligned with but strengthen the basic tenets of intergenerational justice. This reflection is relevant to the broader debate on a UBI, citizen’s dividend, and accountability.
I develop in my writing a broader vision of UBI going beyond just cash transfers. I believe that the reform needs complementing measures to be added to create a real alternative to the current system. As part of this vision, I want to inspire creating organizational structures that will enable people to access high-quality basic services and be an alternative to the monopoly of the current market system which has many disruptive externalities. You can see examples of such an organization of work in my articles.
I propose to focus on building sustainability to maintain the health of the community and yield long term advantages for future generations.
Agriculture and correcting market food supply
It is difficult to free farmers from the vicious cycle of the past mistakes and the short-term planning that living in poverty imposes. Therefore, the best way to use resources is through giving subsidies and knowledge transfer to enable advanced low-tech agricultural methods such as permaculture, wild agriculture, or agro-forestry. The abundance in the food supply, which such a change of direction promises, can benefit various forms of organizing food distribution. This can have both forms of targeting farmers in particular as their practices pollute the environment around them as well as the broader community to enable the poor to produce their food in community gardens. One can think of a hybrid solution such as the one described in the case of a small farmer who invites consumers to participate in food production. Such methods require a long-term commitment and the resources to invest in developing soil but with time they will produce abundance that can be redistributed among citizens. It will also contribute to sustaining the natural resources in the region. With this kind of approach, you not only redistribute wealth (nutritional wealth) but multiply it.
The influences that have destroyed agriculture all over the world are taking a toll on India. A recent initiative by the government wants to foster organic agriculture but the project resembles the commercial, export-oriented type of intervention, which may not benefit the poor directly. How can you protect the soil from land grabbing and the interests of monopolies like fertilizer producers and other branches of the agricultural industry? The answer needs to mobilize various actors, also consumers.
While in India, I talked to a 19-year old woman who studies sociology and has all this critical thinking and discourse pouring out of her. At the same time, she eats at McDonald’s and thinks it is cool. Industrially processed food is particularly dangerous for India due to ineffective recycling and waste management. Cash transfers may add freedom but the one promised by the interests of the multinational companies at the cost of sustainable health and agriculture.
Collective rather than individual approach
While I understand the argument against taxing citizens by transferring real income from the Permanent Fund to the government instead of giving individual dividends, this type of redistribution may also be as short-sighted as the extractive industry is. We can imagine a different approach, which is neither former nor the latter option but something in between. Definitely, the government has shown limits in governing resources, which calls for other than tax solutions. By building up robust structures and practices that will sustain collaboration capacities of the population, you are enabling the population to multiply rather than only consume resources. And this is something that benefits the entire population so the dividend has a universal effect in the long run.
Nowadays, there are many instances of technologies that create abundance, for example, solar energy; think of community solar stove in neighborhoods. Think of all sorts of circular economies that could change the mindset about how resources are used and produced. There is this magic thing about nature that once you work with (and not against) nature, including human nature, you can create abundance.
Instead of atomizing the resources, I propose to give them at collective disposal so that people can make collective investments to share resources: building collective kitchens, gardens, and other commons. Giving money into collective hands as opposed to just individual transfers, which you don’t know how people will end up spending and whether their spending will actually be good for the community and for their health, will produce cumulative results.
The problem with cash transfers is that if you just give money but there is no consciousness, no awareness of how to spend money in a sustainable way then the money will be just spent on things that actually contribute to the damage of the region and the future generations. Cash transfers are intermediated by mentality and culture. Therefore, it is important to build this intermediating fabric in the community. For example, how could you enable creating public spaces where self-organization happens, where connection happens, where people are brought back to responsible and sustainable consumption?
Culture and community
Another building block of creating sustainability is preserving culture and community. It is important to ask what organizations, what projects, what knowledge could preserve the indigenous and original Indian culture to protect it from erosion? The dying out of traditional cultures will lead to spreading addiction and other social dysfunctions. The question is how to prevent Western style of capitalism and cultural and relational poverty from imbuing your region. Investing in protecting the community is a form of creating a commons, which foster public health outside of the pharmacological approach and dependency on extractive industries.
If we look at the intergenerational equity in structural and cultural context, giving out cash transfers appears as delivering the region to the tyranny of near-sighted vision and forgoing a deep social change. Cash may enable and encourage consumption that fits well into the interests of hegemonic actors and ideologies. Before enabling consumption, we need to transform the underpinning culture and underpinning patterns which brought obesity and other health problems in the West.
Rahul Basu’s comment
We wholeheartedly agree that fostering communities is necessary. Our structure has been designed to deal with the serious issues that arise from the misgovernance of mineral extraction. One aspect particularly important for India is the large number of power hierarchies – class, caste & gender being just a few – and which permeate even traditionally self-governing villages. This enables politicians to develop winning coalitions using a divide and conquer strategy. The Citizen’s Dividend is essential to connect people to their mineral inheritance and the equality of the dividend prevents the division of the people.
While it is desirable that this income be pooled in ways that foster communities, we believe that this should be left open to the recipients of the dividend. Indeed, in the SEWA pilot of UBI in India, one group pooled their dividends and jointly took up fish cultivation. If on the other hand, this money is mandated for community creation through the legally recognized legal structures like villages / cities, we will neither have a community nor will we have resolved the misgovernance of the mineral inheritance.
You can find Katarzyna’s soon to be released book: “Imagine a Sane Society”
Further publications on UBI by Katarzyna Gajewska:
1. interviewed by Tyler Prochazka (January 2016): Beyond temptation: Scholar discusses addiction and basic income – an interview: http://www.basicincome.org/news/2016/01/beyond-temptation-scholar-discusses-addiction-and-basic-income/
2. (September 2015): UBI and alcoholism (or other substance addictions): exploring the argument against UBI: http://basicincome.org.uk/2015/09/ubi-and-alcoholism-or-other-substance-addictions-exploring-the-argument-against-ubi/
3. (9 June 2017): UBI needs peers (part three): Reconquering work – inspiration from People’s Potato. URL: http://basicincome.org/news/2017/06/ubi-needs-peers-part-three-reconquering-work-inspiration-peoples-potato/ .
4. (10 April 2017): UBI needs peers (PT 2): Re-imagine work organization, basicincome.org, http://basicincome.org/news/2017/04/ubi-needs-peers-pt-2-re-imagine-work-organization/
5. (11 February 2017) UBI needs peers to control services of general interest (part one), http://basicincome.org/news/2017/02/ubi-needs-peers-control-services-general-interest-part-one/
6. (30 June 2014): There is such a thing as a free lunch: Montreal Students Commoning and Peering food services. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/there-is-such-a-thing-as-a-free-lunch-montreal-students-commoning-and-peering-food-services/2014/06/30
7. (16 May 2014) : UBI and Housing Problem, Basic Income UK, http://www.basicincome.org.uk/ubi_power_relations_and_housing_problems
It is undeniable that the new wave of engouement for UBI (universal basic income) that has shaken the US, the EU, India and so many other parts of the globe in the wake of COVID-19 has also reached Brazil. Everywhere, the simple idea of guaranteeing a regular income, duty-free, underwritten by the State, appears to be the way forward to mitigate the still unmeasurable consequences of the appalling disruptions brought about by the pandemic. UBI would swiftly reduce income insecurity, preventing poverty; it could also significantly contribute to accelerate the economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era by stimulating aggregate demand.
The idea of a UBI was galvanized when governments promptly decided to extend the amount, coverage, and length of different sorts of monetary transfers to confront the gravity of the multiple crises created by the COVID-19 outbreak. Unemployment benefits, job allowances, one-time pay-checks, welfare benefits, or even special forms of credit line have spread out to inject liquidity in the economy. All of a sudden, we have a new opportunity for making the case for UBI.
Brazil was no exception. The comprehensive national social security system created in 1988 that provides free, universal health care (among many other rights) had been made vulnerable by years of underfinancing. But the system continues to be the most effective and democratic institution when it comes to guaranteeing social rights and wellbeing in Brazil. When the COVID crisis hit, the federal government and Congress could have reinforced social assistance, public healthcare, unemployment insurance, and other job allowances — all constitutive dimensions of the Brazilian social protection system. Instead, they united to favor ad hoc measures that, though sounding generous, are inevitably temporary.
The ultraliberal government of President Jair Bolsonaro backed a bill that Congress approved unanimously early April to adopt an “emergency basic income” program that would last the entire state of emergency declared on March 20, 2020. In principle, this program should expire on December 31, 2020, along with the state of emergency. In Brazil, a state of emergency allows extraordinary spending, suppressing the 2016 cap imposed by a constitutional amendment that impeded any real increase in social spending until 2036 regardless of economic growth or rise in tax revenues.
It bears reminding that Brazil is the only country in the world to have passed a law on Basic Income in 2004, hours prior to the adoption of the Bolsa Familia Program. Yet the law remained a dead letter and largely unknown to most Brazilians. To date, it remains unclear why the Workers’ Party started its mandate presenting a bill on UBI, which was approved without encountering any opposition, too soon after paying no heed to it. Today, despite the existence of a UBI Law, activists, progressive parties, and members of Congress chose the easiest way out, bypassing the already existing institutional framework. They chose a transitory and short-term program over existing law. This narrowed sighted strategy further debilitates Brazil’s social security system, because it deepens defunding. It also fails to bring greater comprehension of what a UBI is in the public opinion, thereby further diminishing the chances to make it a true, permanent, and unconditional right.
Today’s “emergency basic income program” provides a three time-payment – now extended to four months – of R$ 600.00, the equivalent of $120 USD per month. It is means-tested. Anyone over 18 years old (threshold waived for single mothers) living with a monthly per capita household income below half a minimum wage (R$ 552.00 / $110 USD) qualifies. The Minister of the Economy estimates that this benefit has reached 54 million people, encompassing the target-population previous recipients of Bolsa Familia, informal and precarious workers, and the unemployed who registered. Let’s not forget that Brazilian monthly median per capita household income, including labor income and all forms of social benefits, like pensions and welfare schemes, corresponds to R$ 862.00, equivalent to $172.00 USD. A monthly stipend of R$ 600.00 is therefore a very significant figure that amounts to 70 percent of the median per capita income and is three times higher than the Bolsa Familia cash transfer. It was the first time that Brazil set the bar so high with regard to compensatory benefits.
It is worth noting that indigenous and traditional black communities who were proportionally the most hardly hit by the pandemic have been denied the right to this temporary benefit, which is very telling about the challenges for universalizing rights in Brazil. The mortality rate among indigenous in the Legal Amazon is 150 percent higher than the national average. The deficiency of the specific care system for native peoples, the invasion of their lands by miners who can take the virus into their territories and communities, and continuous deforestation are pointed out as reasons that can explain such a high mortality rate and lethality. Faced with the threat posed by COVID-19 to indigenous communities, opposition parties passed a law in early July in Congress that provides for a set of 16 emergency measures to protect some 800,000 indigenous people. President Bolsonaro, however, immediately vetoed the most important ones, such as guaranteeing the supply of drinking water, food baskets, hygiene products and specific ICU beds for indigenous people infected with the virus, arguing that the Union could not afford mounting non-essential expenditures. Brazil remains a very unequal society and has not yet reckoned with its colonial structures of racialized discrimination.
The Brazilian Bureau of Census (IBGE) just published the first results regarding the impact of the Emergency Basic Income Program: 38.7 percent of all Brazilian households received the program, with the bottom 40 percent benefitting most. 45 percent of all Brazilians received the temporary emergency workers’ allowance and three-fourths of all monetary transfers benefitted the 50 percent at the bottom of the distribution scale. According to IPEA, this allowance has compensated 45 percent of outstanding earning losses due to the pandemic. It also increased by 2,000 times the average income of the poorest 10 percent. This is good news, especially because the recovery of the economic activity that has been noticed in early July significantly relies on the rebound of household consumption.
There is now strong evidence that providing monetary transfers at large scale and in substantial amounts that make a real difference in people’s lives is a powerful mechanism to boost economic activity, prevent destitution and humiliation, and help people cope with all sorts of hardships.
Did the crisis and the measures adopted increase the support for a true UBI? Are Brazilians really aware of the challenge and motivated to fight for it? In 2013, I carried out a national survey to assess how Brazilian society values social policies. There was a specific question on UBI. Back then, 51 percent disagreed, and one-third agreed with the idea of implementing a UBI. The current estimates are unknown since no survey asking the specific question has yet been re-conducted. But let us keep in mind that the current emergency workers’ allowance is no UBI.
The question is whether or not the evidence aforementioned would suffice to bolster the implementation of a true UBI in Brazil.
During the pandemic, doctors, health workers, and the many who support the universal public health care system (SUS) persevered in order to advance a temporary program, called ICU Beds for All. In Brazil, for every 5 ICU beds fully equipped in the private sector, we have only 1 in public hospitals. The problem is that only 25 percent of all Brazilians have subscribed to private health insurance, whereas 75 percent go public. Given that a significant and growing number of ICU beds were underutilized in the private sector, a campaign was launched to create a pool of ICU beds, coordinated by a public entity, to improve access and sort out the waiting list problem. But no agreement could be reached and today Brazil is second only to the United States, with 1,7 million confirmed cases, and 68,000 fatalities, both figures broadly underestimated given that testing is rather rare in Brazil. It is now obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic was insufficient to unite Brazilians, even when so many lives are lost.
This paradox raises two major concerns:
- Is UBI the most urgent need for Brazilians? Will it be possible to couple a universal basic income at a relatively significant amount at least to eradicate abject poverty with other universal social policies that are urgently needed such as public healthcare, good public education, social housing, adequate sanitation? Is this affordable?
- To what extent would endorsing UBI strengthen the social security system already threatened by austerity measures derived from the cap on public spending and by attempts of the Bolsonaro government to fully reshape it through tax reform and the merging of different social benefits restricting them to poverty relief programs?
In regards to the first question, what would be the cost of a UBI in Brazil? Of course, the cost depends on the design of the program. To get a rough idea of the cost of a very basic program, let us consider a stipend that would be equivalent to the monthly benefit of Bolsa Familia today, which is R$ 200 per month ($40 USD). This amount should be acceptable by all parties and civil organizations across the political spectrum. The difference lies in the fact that it would apply to individuals (UBI) rather than households (Bolsa Familia Program).
Let us then imagine that when the law was approved in 2004 the Brazilian government decided to implement the program starting with children under 5. Given that it would be impossible to grant a stipend to all Brazilians, the idea is that we would launch a UBI by targeting the children to prevent intergenerational poverty. The new benefit will accompany the beneficiaries throughout their lifetime as an unconditional right. Focusing on children sounds appropriate because the pension system in Brazil provides a satisfactory income security to the elderly: 85 percent of all seniors over 65 receive a public pension, either contributory or non-contributory, whose monthly amount (floor) corresponds to no less than a minimum wage.
By providing a UBI of R$ 200.00 to children under 5 in 2004, today’s number of potential recipients under 20 years old totals 60,7 million people (IBGE, PNAD 2004 & PNADc 2020). This would cost R$ 323 billion, or 10 times the annual spending with the Bolsa Familia Program (R$ 32 billion or, 4.4 percent of GDP in 2019). The good news is that 57 percent of all stipends would go the bottom 40 percent of the distribution. The current Emergency Workers’ Allowance Program amounts to R$ 150 Billion, consequently less than half of the proposed UBI, reaching an almost equal number of recipients.
To grant $40 USD a month to 60 million people in 2019 is three times higher than the federal spending, with the public healthcare system (only R$ 117 billion or 1.64 percent of GDP). Such a program would also surpass by 11 percent of all benefits conveyed by the federal government (including higher education, housing, sanitation, labor, and agrarian initiatives), which accounts for R$ 289 billion (Lavinas 2020).
In 2019, outstanding federal social spending amounted to R$ 1.73 trillion. Paying a basic income of R$ 200.00, therefore at the level of the current anti-poverty Bolsa Familia program, would compromise 27.5 percent of all social spending. That same year federal social spending in kind corresponded to only 4.12 percent.
Monetary transfers remain the bulk of social spending, accounting for 68 percent. Should Brazil continue to expand cash transfers, to the detriment of providing running water, sanitation, housing, equal standards in education and healthcare? The most recent data from IBGE (2018) show that 31.1 million Brazilians (16 percent of the population) have no access to tap-water, whereas 72.4 million (37 percent of the population) lack proper sanitation. Not to mention decades of deep housing shortage affecting millions of poor and low-income families who end up living in slums, which makes them less immune to all sorts of diseases in times of pandemics.
The second question relates to the future of the Brazilian social protection system, which was underfinanced for quite a long time, and now risks being completely dismantled. The Minister of the Economy, an old member of the Chicago Boys who worked for the Pinochet Regime, intends to overhaul social security. He initiated a pension reform in 2019, making it harder for informal workers to get a full pension at retirement.
Now, that same ultraliberal minister proposes the creation of a “Brazil Income Program”, resulting from the merging of a large number of benefits, both contributory and non-contributory. Workers’ rights like job allowances, unemployment benefits, and other benefits alike will all be suppressed and replaced by an anti-poverty program to reach 57 million people, granting a monthly stipend of R$ 232 per month, 15 percent above the average payment of Bolsa Familia. They expect to spend R$ 52 billion per year with this new program, which is less than one percent of the 2019 Brazilian GDP. This means that the coverage against risks and poverty will be shortened and people’s autonomy and wellbeing consequently corroded.
In addition, the government intends to provide a voucher to pay for private daycare for two million children up to three years old, which will increase prices and fees and discriminate based on income. Lessons from Chile are well-known to envision that in Brazil things could be different. A voucher of R$ 250,00 corresponds to 10 percent of what middle-class families pay for private childcare in cities like Rio and São Paulo. The best daycare centers, however, charge double or triple. According to the government, churches could be interested in providing this service, an idea that breaks with the logic of secularism in the provision of public education.
Both concerns point to the ineluctable call for a joint perspective associating basic income and universal public provision to democratize access and opportunities by fully de-commodifying wellbeing. Otherwise, under financialized capitalism, a guaranteed income will just serve as collateral propelling citizenry to take out loans and go indebted in order to meet their financial obligations.
Early July, that same Congress that approved the Emergency Workers’ Allowance Program voted for the full privatization of water supply and sanitation, maybe having in mind that enlarging access to cash to those most affected by the pandemic would also make it easier to expand further a business model grounded in denying basic human rights and ensuring huge profits for pension and mutual funds that today drive investments in infrastructure in developing and emerging countries. After the longest and most severe recession Brazil has faced over a century since 2015 and given the growth projections ahead (-9.1 percent for 2020, according to the IMF), fiscal resources will dry up while competing and clashing issues will fill up antagonisms, stirring tensions. All the care may not be enough in designing social policies if the goal is eventually to forge a truly egalitarian society in the country.
The major differential of a UBI is to de-commodify labor. It is thus equally crucial to de-commodify the social reproduction of labor, by ensuring that education, daycare, healthcare, training, and other basic needs will also be fully de-commodified. Otherwise, UBI will perform as a powerful pro-market mechanism, upholding income-related and highly segmented private provision, mostly through the financial sector, and fueling rather than overcoming discrimination and inequality.