The newly formed Government of the 33rd Dáil has committed to trialling Basic Income (BI) in Ireland over the next five years. The announcement was made in the Programme for Government (PfG) agreed between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The document details a long list of actions that the next government aims to implement, with this commitment on BI being included under ‘Anti-poverty and Social Inclusion Measures’ on p.86:
[We will] request the Low Pay Commission to examine Universal Basic Income, informed by a review of previous international pilots, and resulting in a universal basic income pilot in the lifetime of the Government.
If the plans go ahead Ireland will join a growing list of countries that have begun making concrete plans to implement a form of Basic Income, but questions have been raised over the substance of the commitments made, and how they will play out in practice.
Anne Ryan, Joint Co-ordinator atBasic Income Ireland – the national body for the promotion of a BI in Ireland – commented:
We would like to see this as part of a commitment to introduce a full permanent basic income for all within the next five years. Trials and pilots have already been carried out in Europe and worldwide and all have shown positive effects. Replicating them in Ireland may not be the best use of time and money when we already know that basic income is one key element of the infrastructure for building a caring society, smart economy, inclusiveness and equality.
Further concerns have been raised over the decision to appoint the Low Pay Comission to lead on the commitments, and the risk that political in-fighting poses for the focus and relevance of any agreed trial.
The PfG contains a plan to have the Low Pay Commission (LPC) examine Universal Basic Income. Issues relating to the role of government in providing a minimum floor below which the living standards of its citizens should not slip go far beyond the remit of the LPC. The Commission on Welfare and Taxation would be a far more appropriate home.(p.3)
Any decision to shift the examination of BI to a different body would require consensus among the three parties, and whilst Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have previously outlined support for BI, Fine Gael has consistently rejected the idea.
Dr Seán Healy, CEO of Social Justice Ireland – who has promoted BI in Ireland for 35 years – added:
Care must be taken to ensure this initiative is not defeated because of the opposition of a single political party when a majority of the Government are prepared to give it a fair trial. In 2002, the Irish Government published a Green Paper on Basic Income which was relatively positive – it is imperative that we do not have a repetition of the failure to give the proposal fair consideration.
How the PfG commitment pans out will therefore depend very much on both the character of the review and the design of the trial. The focus must be on ensuring that these proceed in a positive spirit, led by people who have a genuine interest in making BI a reality.
The original article in Portuguese can be found here.
Eduardo Galeano said, mentioning the words of Argentine filmmaker Fernando Birre, that no matter how much a person walks, he or she will never reach utopia. Precisely because of this, its value would be in encouraging the walk towards it.
Following the concept adopted by BIEN’s charter since 2016, a policy that is intended to be a UBI must have five characteristics: periodic, paid in an appropriate medium of exchange (currency), individual, unconditioned and universal. Maricá, a Brazilian municipality in the state of Rio de Janeiro, decided to walk towards the UBI through solid steps.
The first one was taken through Municipal Law n. 2,448/2013, regulated by Decree n. 213/2013, which deals with the implementation of the “Bolsa Mumbuca Social Program”, a policy of cash transfer in monthly payments of 70 units of “Mumbuca”. However, it was still a program aimed only at the poorest families, with monthly family income of up to one minimum wage (R$ 1,045.00; US$ 200.00, in current values), to which it imposed some conditionalities, largely related to the education of children.
It is important to highlight that Mumbuca is a local digital currency whose name is a reference to the main river and to one of the native peoples of the city. A unit of Mumbuca is equivalent to R$ 1.00 (US$ 0.19). It cannot be converted directly into cash but can be used by means of a magnetic card in any of the registered commercial establishments, only in the municipality of Maricá. Currently, there are in Maricá more machines used for transactions with the digital currency than the similar equipment of the large card operators.
In December 2015 the second step was taken. Trough the Municipal Law n. 2,652/2015, regulated by Decree n. 125/2015, the “Bolsa Mumbuca” was replaced by the “Mumbuca Minimum Income” (MMI), which paid 85 Mumbucas per month to families who had monthly income of up to three minimum wages (R$ 3,135.00; US$ 608.00). It followed as a program aimed at the poorest families, but now without the conditionalities imposed until then.
On the same date as the second step, the third was taken. Parallel to the MMI, the Municipal Law n. 2.641/2015, regulated by Decree n. 124/2015, created a program called “Citizen´s Basic Income” (CBI), which monthly destined 10 Mumbucas to all individuals born in Maricá and living there for at least one year, to other Brazilians living in the city for at least two years and to foreigners living there for at least five years. Although the law provided that the CBI would be granted regardless of the socioeconomic condition of the beneficiary, it also provided that such coverage would be achieved in stages, at the discretion of the Municipal Executive, prioritizing the most needy sections of the population. Thus, CBI’s implementation began targeting individuals registered with the Single Registry of the Federal Government (CadÚnico), to which can have access low-income families that have per capita family income of up to half a minimum wage (R$ 522.50; US$ 100.00) or total monthly family income of up to three minimum wages (R$ 3,135.00; US$ 608.00).
In June of last year, through the Municipal Law n. 2.869/2019, Maricá took the fourth and most ambitious step until now, increasing the value of the CBI from 10 to 130 Mumbucas (US$ 25,00) per individual and absorbing, among other social programs, the MMI, which until then paid 85 Mumbucas per household. With this change, the benefits that until then reached 14,000 families began to serve more than 42,000 people out of a total population of 161,000 individuals, with the short-term goal of reaching the 50,000 people in the city registered in the CadÚnico. Additionally, the same law changed the minimum period of residence of national citizens in the Municipality, requiring three years regardless of where in the country they were born, keeping unchanged the period of five years for foreigners.
As an exceptional measure to contain the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of the CBI was transitionally changed from 130 to 300 Mumbucas (US$ 60.00), as of April 2020 and for a period of 3 months, according to Municipal Law n. 2,921/2020. Additionally, the year-end bonuses in the amount of 130 Mumbucas were advanced to make the April payment an amount of 430 Mumbucas per person.
Thus, the CBI of Maricá is not a temporary experiment, but a regular policy, paid in an appropriate medium of exchange, individual and unconditional. The Program has been closely monitored by the Brazilian Basic Income Network and the municipality is preparing to take the final step by 2022, which will abolish means testing and make the CBI a universal measure for all those who meet the minimum period of residence in the city.
As the character Raphael Hythloday said to the incredulous Peter Giles in Thomas More’s book, “if you had been in Utopia with me, and had seen their laws and rules (…) you would then confess that you had never seen a people so well constituted as they.” Would Maricá be near to contradicting Eduardo Galeano? Or would the Brazilian municipality be close to demonstrating, through laws and rules, that UBI is not an unreachable utopia, but a perfectly feasible social construction?
Alongside securing a regular supply of food, therefore, unless our governments plan to supplant the market economy entirely and move towards a system of resource-allocation that is less anarchic, one of their primary tasks must be to ensure that people have enough money in their pockets to buy it. This is where introducing a basic income becomes an option.
We advocate that an emergency basic income be provided through the direct cash transfer mechanism that Government of India has implemented. This will not only arrest potential social unrest but also ensure that there is continued aggregate demand to sustain our economy.
(Further articles about the needs of migrant workers in India can be found here and here)
For society to have the required resilience to survive this crisis and to recover from it, everybody must have the capacity to try to respond responsibly. If some groups are left vulnerable and deprived, all groups will be vulnerable and deprived. A basic income would give meaning to the claim that ‘we are all in this together’.
The second in a series of zoomcasts has now been published.
Unprecendented unemployment figures in the United States of America in the wake of COVID-19 require a new type of response – Is Universal Basic Income the answer?
Karl Widerquist and Scott Santens speak to our anchors Louise Haagh (BIEN), Sarath Davala (INBI and BIEN) and Jamie Cooke (RSA & BIEN).
BIEN Conversations is a series of informal videos with thought leaders in the field of Basic Income and beyond. The aim of the Conversations series is to fill a gap in the coverage of Covid and basic income, by reflecting critically on both the opportunities and risks which this new context for the discussion about basic income creates.
The opinions of the anchors and guests are their own and do not reflect BIEN’s position.
In April BIEN’s Executive Committee agreed some plans to feature the growing public attention around basic income as a response to the Coronavirus crisis, in an informative and critical way. We launched the new BIEN Bulletin, which is up and running. We also agreed a BIEN zoom-cast to be anchored by Louise Haagh, Sarath Davala and Jamie Cook. Finally, BIEN’s academic blog the Navigator, will feature the Covid-crisis in its first edition, to be launched this Autumn.
We are pleased today to publish the first episode of the BIEN Conversations Zoom Cast, in which some of the general themes we envisage will run through the series of dialogues are sketched.
The Zoom Cast does not aim to generate BIEN positions, and does not reflect BIEN positions. The opinions of the anchors and guests are their own.
The aim of the Zoom cast is to fill a gap in the coverage of Covid and basic income, by reflecting critically on both the opportunities and risks which this new context for the discussion about basic income creates.
What is the relationship of a prospective basic income with other economic security schemes, such as Furlough in Britain? How does the existing labour market affect the need for cash grants and the government response? What can we learn from cases such as the US, where the government has extended what looks like a rich-tested temporary UBI, in the form of flat income grants to individuals of 1200$ (for anyone earning less than 125K$)? To what extent it this response a feature of the US labour market context, including the spectre of huge job losses? In India and parts of Eastern Europe, with large labour migrant populations being either stuck or forced to return to their home country without income security, the role of a potential temporary unconditional cash grant scheme addresses deeper problems of labour migration.
What about the preparedness for Covid in different countries? Are there lessons for basic income from the differences in state capacity and social organisation which country responses to Covid reveal? For example, countries which have been able to track and reduce instances of Covid have needed less extensive lock-down restrictions and in turn the economic outlook may be better. Contrasting examples show vividly how the need for and capacity to support basic income-like schemes and transitions may be at odds: greater need often comes with less capacity. What implications can we draw of relevance for the wider debate from this sort of scenario?
Other issues the Zoom cast series hopes to cover include the relationship of basic income debate, rationale, and prospects with larger questions affecting the conditions in which basic income be can be realised and be effective. Relevant background factors include post-covid servicing and potential restructuring or relief of public debt, and government-led choices about austerity versus social investment. Debates which pit basic income against other public policy measures will be more likely where short-term debt servicing trumps long-term social investment and planning. Some say that short-term recovery measures can be turned into a permanent basic income scheme. But is it that simple? How do administrative, political and funding logics intersect? What is already clear is that in the post-covid context the debates about what motivates basic income, and if choices need to be made, which features of a UBI matters most in a transitional context, will only become more urgent. Perhaps we need to accept these choices and their answers will look different in different places. A theme that has always motivated me however is the importance in general of emphasizing basic income as an institutional innovation, which is linked not only with unconditionality but also with the scheme’s permanency.
Permanency is key to a UBI’s impact on health and motivation, and thus the sense of freedom, and to the potential to support other public policies. Without permanency, the fit of basic income to other economic institutions and to development transitions such as towards a green economy, are harder to envisage.
Permanency of basic income is accepted as an inbuilt feature of UBI by most experts, but it is lost sight of in public debates in favour of short-term needs – understandably, and this tendency becomes naturally more prominent in crisis conditions. However, being able to maintain a long-term perspective, with an eye on the advantages of permanence can also be argued to be even more important at critical junctures such as these, including to avoid an impression that basic income is essentially a crisis or anti-poverty measure.
All these considerations, and many others, are harder to balance in moments of, respectively, opportunity and crisis.
In the Bien Conversations series, we hope to raise some of these and other issues through a dialogue that engages events, and their regional dimensions, whilst also brining the long-standing debates to bear on our reflections.
The format of the Conversations series will be a discussion of the news and events, combined with a focus on regional experiences and on topical issues, led by the anchors and with the presence of guests from around the world.
feature the growing public attention around basic income as a response to the Coronavirus crisis.
There is a translation of this article into French.
A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement (BIEN’s definition of Basic Income)
The coronavirus pandemic is causing huge suffering for those individuals who experience serious attacks of the disease, and for the families and friends of those who die from it. Everybody understands the social distancing measures that governments around the world are having to implement, because nobody wants health services to be put under so much pressure at any one time that those who need treatment cannot receive it.
But social distancing, travel restrictions, and the closure of so many businesses, has led, and will continue to lead, to significant economic costs, both for families and for the economy as a whole.
Governments have been doing what they can to protect employees’ incomes when their employers can no longer pay them, and to protect the incomes of self-employed people when their businesses have to cease trading either temporarily or permanently: but the measures put in place often struggle to protect the incomes of large numbers of workers in the informal sector and migrant workers.
Around the world we have seen legislators, journalists, think tanks, researchers, campaigners, and many others, calling for an emergency Basic Income. This is clearly to be welcomed. Also to be welcomed are changes to existing benefits systems that take them closer to being Basic Incomes. What is not to be welcomed is the use of the term ‘Basic Income’ for benefits that are not genuine Basic Incomes: that is, they are not ‘a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement’.
The reason for the increase in interest in Basic Income is that a genuine Basic Income would provide a secure layer of income when all other sources are either absent or insecure; it would inject demand into the economy and help us to avoid a recession; and because everyone would receive it, it would contribute to the social cohesion that every nation will need if it is to get through this crisis. It would not matter that Basic Incomes would be paid to people who didn’t need them, because it would be an easy matter to raise income tax rates on higher incomes so that those who already had secure incomes would not see their disposable incomes rise, and would be helping to pay for the Basic Incomes that everybody needed.
It is a significant problem that instead of paying Basic Incomes, governments are relying on increasing the coverage of existing means-tested benefits and on implementing new income-tested benefits. These benefits fall if earned income rises, so occasional and even permanent opportunities to earn additional income might be turned down because any increase in earned income would reduce benefit payments and could risk people losing their benefit claims entirely. A Basic Income would not fall if earned incomes were to rise, so any opportunity to contribute to the economy would be gladly taken, and there would always be an incentive to start the new businesses that any new economic situation would require.
Given the clear advantages of Basic Income, why are governments not implementing temporary or permanent Basic Income schemes? There might be several reasons for this. First of all, whether a country’s economy is more developed or less developed, there might simply be no mechanism available to enable the government to pay an unconditional income to every legal resident. What would be required would be a database that contained every individual’s name, contact details, date of birth, and bank account details. Given sufficient political will, many countries would be able to construct such a database within a fairly short period of time: but in the midst of this crisis it will generally be easier to use existing mechanisms to protect the incomes that can be protected fairly easily: through expansions of existing means-tested and contributory benefits systems; through using existing ‘pay as you earn’ income tax systems to enable employers to continue to pay employees who have been laid off; and to make grants to self-employed individuals on the basis of submitted annual accounts.
Where existing benefits systems are being used to maintain household incomes, the conditions for the receipt of benefits are often being relaxed: for instance, by no longer requiring stringent employment search requirements. Such changes are steps towards the complete unconditionality of Basic Income, and they are to be recognised as such, and are to be welcomed.
A trend that is not to be welcomed, though, is the use of the term ‘Basic Income’ for mechanisms that are not Basic Incomes. The recent short-lived experiment in Ontario was called a Basic Income, but it was household-based and therefore not ‘on an individual basis’, and it was income-tested and therefore was not ‘without means test’. It was not a Basic Income, and it should never have been called one. Similarly, during this crisis, governments are sometimes using the term ‘Basic Income’ for new or reformed benefits that are not Basic Incomes. This ought to stop, because it is misleading, and it makes rational debate more difficult to conduct.
So we should recognise and welcome the efforts that governments are making to adapt existing benefits systems so that they are closer in character to Basic Income; but we should point out that anything that is not a Basic Income will not exhibit the advantages that a genuine Basic Income would exhibit, and that if it is not a Basic Income then it should not be called one.
BIEN is gathering information from its affiliated organisations on their governments’ measures to protect incomes during the crisis, and in particular information on the extent to which those measures exhibit the characteristics of Basic Income, and the extent to which they do not.
In the meantime, information on the measures that governments are implementing can be found on the IMF website.
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more