On the right: Anna Fowler (director of health & social development); on the left: Qajaq Robinson (lawyer, commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report), in 2016. Picture credit to: The Globe and Mail, Canada.
Research and historical evidence have firmly established that “poverty is a root cause of violence against women”. The words are from Qajaq Robinson, commissioner of the recent report National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The importance of this report has been enhanced by the event of its presentation by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself, at a ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec, on June 3rd 2019.
Story after story, among the more than 2300 testimonies gathered for the report, economic dependency was at the core of this continuous violence against girls and women (mostly, but also affected some boys and men). Wether it was to keep a roof over their heads, or because they had no other forms of income, the company of violent male partners was hard to avoid. Or even because sex work was the only source of income for these disadvantaged girls and women.
The report also exposes the situation of whole communities being “destitute by design”, in which federal or regional authorities have deliberately relocated indigenous communities onto areas where their economic emancipation would be difficult, or even impossible. That on top of obsolete laws that purposely prohibited indigenous people from selling their goods to the wider society, which constitute remains of harsher first occupation days, when the overt goal was to keep these people under siege, without a way to regain power over their lands.
To escape this spiral of violence, particularly directed to indigenous girls and women, in this case, Robinson assured that a ‘guaranteed annual income’ would be a “chance to move out of survival mode and live a life of dignity”.
More information at:
Emma Paling, “Why a governmental inquiry into endemic violence against women recommends a basic income for all Canadians as a call for justice”, Basic Income Today, June 12th 2019
Kristy Kirkup, “Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women Report Calls Violence ‘Genocide’”, Huffpost, March 6th 2019
Written by: Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy and Mônica Dallari
This January, we discovered an extraordinary pioneer effort towards poverty eradication in poor rural villages in Kenya: the transfer of Universal Basic Income (UBI). Through the initiative of GiveDirectly, an institution created by four graduates of Harvard University and MIT, Silicon Valley institutions and other organizations contributed to the formation of a US$30 million fund to benefit about 20,000 Kenyans in the most important and thorough study about UBI in history. In the visits to rural villages in the Kisumu and Siaya areas, reports were unanimous in stating that with UBI contributed to a significant improvement in the quality of life of all the beneficiaries.
Lula da Silva on the far left; Eduardo Suplicy on the far right
Upon learning that GiveDirectly was carrying out this experiment in Kenya, we decided to write a letter to them, in which I (Eduardo) introduced myself as the author of the Brazilian Law 10.835 / 2004, which establishes the implementation, in stages, the UBI for all people in Brazil, including foreigners residing here for five years or more. As honorary co-chair of BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network), I said I would like to know about the experiment. This request was accepted by Caroline Teti, GiveDirectly’s external relations director in Nairobi.
Eduardo Suplicy visits Grameen Bank with Muhammad Yunus, in Dhaka Bangladesh. July 2007
How the UBI program works
GiveDirectly´s office in Nairobi. January 2019
As soon as we arrived in Nairobi, we met with her and started a dialogue with the coordinator of a team of 34 people who work in the call center. The call center is responsible for the quarterly contacts with each one of the 21,000 adult beneficiaries of the UBI experiment. In 2016, GiveDirectly started the pilot to provide a UBI payment in Kisumu, Siaya and Bomet counties. More than 630,000 people in these counties live below the poverty line, defined by the Kenyan government as less than US$15 a month per household member, in rural areas, and $28 a month per household member in urban areas.
For the execution of the experiment, 295 villages (14,474 residences) were randomly selected, divided into four groups:
- Control Group: 100 villages that do not receive payments;
- Long-Term UBI: 44 villages in which adults (over 18 years old) receive sufficient income for basic needs, about US$0.75 per day, or $22 per month for 12 years;
- Short Term UBI: 80 villages where adults receive sufficient income for basic needs, about $0.75 per day or $22 per month for 2 years;
- Lump Sum UBI (or UBI Cash Payment): In 71 villages, families receive UBI in the fixed amount of US$1,000 divided into two payments of $500.
The transfers are made through M-Pesa, a mobile money service created in 2007 by Safaricom, a Vodafone telephone company in Kenya. The platform enables financial transactions that are safe, fast and cheap through a cell phone, such as deposits, transfers, and savings. The platform does not need a bank account.
View of the National Park at Nairobi. January 2019
Small retailers in rural villages across the country were trained and became agents of M-Pesa services. Beneficiaries can withdraw money or shop at accredited establishments in all villages in Kenya. Those who did not have cell phones were able to purchase a low-cost GiveDirectly device. Today, 80 percent of the country’s adult population has a cell phone.
From the visits to the beneficiaries of the Kenyan experiment of UBI, we can say that the improvement in the well-being of the people is very significant. This was what we were able to witness in all the residences we visited and in the dialogue with beneficiaries of UBI. Mothers and fathers spoke of the concern to prioritize the education of children and adolescents, ensuring attendance and completion of school. This became possible due to UBI, which even helped in the hiring of auxiliary teachers. In general, our respondents stated that they were better fed and had access to a greater variety of foods.
The benefit of the UBI resulted in people being able to work more intensely and productively, especially because they were able to acquire better working equipment, such as tools, motorcycles to transport people or make deliveries, livestock (goat and cattle) to supply meat and milk, fishing equipment to get more fish in the lake to sell them, land purchasing for vegetable and fruit trees planting. These activities directly increased their income. Some families have invested in systems to better capture rainwater or solar energy collectors in order to have electricity. Households purchased better furniture, such as mattresses, sofas, tables, chairs and small electrical appliances, such as a stereo or radio. Straw roofs have been replaced with steel that contains gutters.
Sunset at Lake Victoria. January 2019
It is important to note that we do not perceive any use of alcohol or other drugs. A study by Innovation Poverty Action1, IPA, corroborates our observation since there was no increase in spending on tobacco, alcohol or gambling. The impression we have goes in the opposite direction; behaviors based on solidarity and cooperation between individuals have been reinforced.
Perhaps most remarkable was the redefinition of gender roles. Because women also receive the benefit, we hear from them how they feel freer in deciding where to spend their money, and we record reports of how couples have come to the table on UBI payday to talk about the household budget. Households frequently organize groups to pool money for a larger purchase or to assume a higher value expenditure. In Kenya, polygamy is allowed. We sometimes see that the UBI contributed to greater solidarity between the wives of one husband, and even between his widows and children.
The agility and speed provided by the digital income transfer system were also fundamental. Each beneficiary is notified by SMS when the transfer is made, being able to make purchases in the M-Pesa accredited establishments, or if she prefers, to exchange the credit for money.
City of Kisumu. January 2019
Another important development was numerous reports demonstrating a noticeable decrease in violence against women and other criminal acts, such as theft in the villages. The direct income transfer done in this way has avoided incorrect procedures and corruption.
M-Pesa Agency. January 2019
For those who want to know more about this Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiment in Kenya and other countries, please access the website. The website provides testimonials from beneficiaries of the UBI collected by the people who work in the call center, available to everyone. You will have confirmed the positive impression of this remarkable pioneering experiment on Universal Basic Income. In addition, you will have the opportunity for this remarkable and important experiment. If you would like more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call Center at the GiveDirectly´s Office. January 2019
Visiting Barack Obama’s Grandmother Sarah Obama
Eduardo Suplicy visits Mama Sarah Obama, in Kogelo. January 2019
On our last day in Kenya, we visited Mama Sarah Obama, Barack Obama’s grandmother, at her farm in Kogelo, another rural village. At first, we would have only three minutes to be with her because of her age, 98 years, but we talked with Mama Sarah and Obama’s aunt, Marsat Oniango, for almost 30 minutes. Enthusiastic about the conversation, they assured me they would send President Obama a letter that I had with me, the same one I had handed to him on October 5, 2017, during a lecture in Sao Paulo.
I spoke of my enthusiasm when I watched on TV the homage Obama paid to South African President Nelson Mandela on his 100th birthday in the packed stadium of Johannesburg. In that speech, the former US president made an important statement, expressing concern about “artificial intelligence that is accelerating. Now we will have automobiles without drivers, more and more automated services, which will mean the need to provide work for all. We will have to be more imaginative because the impact of change will require us to rethink our political and social arrangements to protect the economic security and dignity that comes with work. It’s not just money that a job provides. It provides dignity, structure, a sense of place and purpose. And we will have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, such as universal income, review of working hours, how to train our young people in this new scenario, how to make each person an entrepreneur of some level.”
I concluded by expressing my certainty that this positive experiment in the Universal Basic Income in the country of Obama’s father and grandfather, whose graves we visited on the grounds of Mama Sarah’s house, will resonate very favorably throughout the world.
Steps after the trip
Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy
Steel Roof to capture rainwater
The fact of having experienced a real immersion in the subject of Basic Income in such a short space of time and in two very different dimensions, that is, the theoretical academic approach of the conference in Cambridge and the opportunity to make field observations during our visits to Kenya, provoked a series of reflections, which made me desire to act.
The trip was made throughout the month of January 2019, coinciding with the inauguration and first month of the government of Jair Bolsonaro. The campaign of the victorious candidate in the 2018 election, his statements after confirmation of his election and the movements of the transition process between the Temer government and the new occupants of the Planalto indicate that the new government has an economic agenda that is based on intentions to resume growth and development of the country, generate jobs and guarantee some stability in public accounts. Despite the fact that I belong to the party that opposed the Bolsonaro candidacy, I believe that certain principles of equity, income distribution, and assistance to the most excluded are values of democracy that are not exclusive to this or that political aspect. So I decided that it was time to warn President Jair Bolsonaro, Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes and the Special Secretary of the Federal Revenue of Brazil Marcos Cintra Cavalcante de Albuquerque about the pertinence to take the steps towards the Citizenship Basic Income.
Philippe Van Parijs and Eduardo Suplicy at the University of Cambridge. January 14th, 2019
Soon after coming back to Brazil, I wrote a letter to these three government officials who had just taken their first steps and offered two copies of works that I believe are fundamental to understanding the concept of basic income: My book “Citizen’s Income: The Exit is Through the Door,” and “Basic Income – A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy” by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, which contains a foreword by myself.
In my argument, I stress the fact that Law 10.835 / 2004, which establishes the Citizen Basic Income, Universal and Unconditional, was approved by all the parties in both houses of the National Congress, including by the then deputy Jair Bolsonaro. I reminded the President “in case the President of the Republic wishes to comply with Article 3 of the Constitution on the fundamental objectives of the Republic of Brazil, in a manner compatible with what is expressed in its program of government, to guarantee a minimum income for all Brazilian families, as liberal thinkers like Milton Friedman argue, the most effective way to do so will be through the implementation of the Citizenship Basic Income, a concept that Friedman considered another way to apply the Negative Income Tax.”
Beneficiary receives credit by SMS. January 2019
In the letter, I also summarized some up-to-date information on the subject, such as the fact that today “more than 40 countries are debating, conducting experiments and considering the implementation of Unconditional Basic Income.” I briefly reported on the visit I had just made: “The results so far are highly promising, as I found out in person. Brazil would have all the conditions to carry out local experiments, as indeed has been the desire of several municipalities like Santo Antônio do Pinhal, Apiaí and Maricá. In the City Council of São Paulo, a Law Project of Mayor Fernando Haddad is in process, already approved in the Commissions of Constitution and Justice and Public Administration, to establish, in stages, UBI in cooperation with the state and federal governments.” Finally, I suggested that a Working Group, possibly coordinated by IPEA, to study the steps towards the Citizenship Basic Income. I stated that I had already spoken with both the Perseu Abramo Foundation of the Workers Party and the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Foundation, linked to the PSDB, who have already been willing to discuss basic income with the newly elected government.
The letter, as well as the volumes, were delivered to Marcos Cintra Cavalcante de Albuquerque, current Special Secretary of the Federal Revenue of Brazil, with whom I had a hearing on February 1, 2019. At the same time, I delivered a letter to the then president and future president of IPEA, Ernesto Lozardo, and Carlos Von Doellinger, detailing how this Working Group could be constituted and reporting my dialogue with former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso during the electoral process. “Given that a number of Presidential candidates were in agreement with this objective, we could very possibly meet the various economic teams of the various candidates to work on this subject.” Sérgio Fausto, the working coordinator of the FHC Foundation, suggested that this meeting should be held after the elections in the first half of 2019.
On the other hand, Márcio Pochmann, President of the Perseu Abramo Foundation, accepted the proposal to create a Working Group for this purpose, and two meetings of this group have already been held. I believe it will be common sense for IPEA to coordinate the efforts of these various institutions linked to the parties whose candidates have made proposals to do this.
It is up to the Government to take the suggested steps.
Written by: Felix FitzRoy & Jim Jin
School of Economics and Finance
University of St. Andrews
As interest in UBI has exploded in recent years for many positive reasons, including the United Kingdom’s disastrous new “universal credit” policy, three major issues remain that are almost universally neglected. First, a modest ‘affordable’ UBI could not raise non-working individuals or households above poverty, even in addition to existing, means-tested benefits. Second, UBI alone would effectively subsidise low-wage and low-quality jobs, reducing pressure for improvement. Third, meaningful work is essential to well-being for most people, but unattainable for two million discouraged workers who want to work but have given up looking for work, as well as the officially unemployed (and those with inadequate jobs) – a major cause of unhappiness.
As we argue in Prospect, a public sector job offer (JO) at minimum wage, combined with a UBI of £3,000 to £4,000 per year could raise all households above poverty when combined with improved disability and housing benefits. Urgent and growing needs for care of an aging population and improvement of deteriorating infrastructure would ensure meaningful employment for all who took up JOs, with appropriate training when needed.
Such a modest UBI as proposed by Stewart Lansley and Howard Reed for Compass, and many others in the UK, could be partially funded by abolishing the regressive personal tax allowance. It would replace some means-tested welfare measures, though disability and housing benefits should remain and need augmenting. The additional cost of JOs is modest, only about £28 billion, which is around 11 percent of total welfare spending for 2 million full-time JO workers, less than total cuts in welfare spending under austerity measures since 2012. As a result of these cuts, child poverty has risen to 30 percent, and the UK holds the worst record in Western Europe. Child poverty has severe negative consequences for the entire life course of those affected.
By providing good working conditions and career advancement, our JO would set standards for minimum wage employment which could not be undermined by common current practices such as demanding unpaid overtime, since those affected could always credibly threaten to quit. Such a general improvement of working conditions would not greatly disrupt existing labour markets, in contrast to the high–wage job guarantee discussed in the US by prominent Democrats, promising to double the minimum wage. This would likely generate excessive uptake in public employment, causing substantial inflation, followed by restrictive government policies. Such a policy would not compensate for the unpaid work done mainly by women in the home as caretakers for children and the elderly.
JOs for all who want to work would be part of the framework of a Green New Deal (GND), now proposed by figures in America’s Democratic party, such as Alexandra Octavio-Cortez. This would involve greatly increased investment in the urgently needed transition to a carbon-free economy by 2050, which is essential to avoid catastrophic climate change. Such a GND could generate full employment similar to the mobilization in World War II but would require higher taxes on the rich for long-run funding. Though such tax increases would face strong political opposition, this would in turn help to reduce extreme inequality and all its negative effects.
About the authors:
FF – Emeritus Professor of Economics, and Research Fellow, IZA – Institute of Labor Economics, Bonn;
JJ – Reader in Economics, both in the School of Economics and Finance, University of St. Andrews
Philip Alston. Picture credit to: BBC News
Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, was in the UK last November 2018, presenting his findings on this press conference. It seems that the UK, the 5th world economy in terms of GDP, drags on the 55th position as far as inequality is concerned, in a list of 160 countries (Gini coefficient measurements from the year 2000 onward, mostly). He refers that, although many think tanks, civic organizations and even parliamentary groups speak of poverty as a crucial challenge in the UK, government ministers consider that “things are going well”, in an obvious attitude of denial.
Alton’s visit to the UK has spurred the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee to conduct an inquiry on UK’s welfare system, along with rising evidence of debt, hunger and homelessness across the country. In fact, a recent (June 2018), deep study on British welfare had already demonstrated that the attribution of conditional benefits has more drawbacks than positive outcomes, which turns the present system counterproductive. So, it seems that poverty, social stigma and arbitrary sanctions are not only the product of some filmmaker’s imagination (e.g.: I, Daniel Blake), but real, verifiable facts.
Among the cited evidence can be found the contribution of the Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT). Given the grim scenario of UK’s poorest or most financially insecure social layers – wages below the poverty line, high unemployment, high insecurity within the job market, increasing conditional welfare – the CIT, headed by Malcolm Torry, recommends that UK’s welfare system should be covered with a new level of unconditional income security. Therefore, it has recommended to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee the adoption of basic income, in the following terms:
Research at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex has shown that such a new layer of unconditional incomes would be entirely feasible. By reducing to zero the Income Tax Personal Allowance and the National Insurance Contributions Primary Earnings Threshold, levelling out National Insurance Contributions across the earnings range, and raising Income Tax rates by just three percentage points, it would be possible to pay an unconditional income of £63 per week to every working age adult, with different amounts for different age groups. No additional public expenditure would be required; poverty and inequality would be substantially reduced; almost no losses would be imposed on low income households at the point of implementation, and only manageable losses on any household; a significant number of households would be taken off means-tested benefits; and a much larger number would be brought within striking distance of coming off them. For every household that came off means-tested benefits, employment incentives would rise substantially. Most importantly: every household in the country would experience a substantial increase in its financial security.
It is worth noting that the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee had already run a formal Oral Evidence Hearing about basic income, on January 12th 2017. At this session were presenting evidence and informed opinions for basic income Louise Haagh (University of York and Basic Income Earth Network), Annie Miller (Citizen’s Income Trust) and Becca Kirkpatrick (UNISON West Midlands Community Branch). On the official summary of that formal hearing, the Committee judged the possibility of introducing a basic income type of policy in the UK as risking “being a distraction from workable welfare reform”, urging “the incoming government not to spend any energy on it”.
Overall, social degradation is happening in the UK, no matter how much governmental officials try to deny it. And that is in the midst of great transformations in the British welfare system, which may raise concerns about what “workable welfare reforms” the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee had in mind in early 2017. Accepting evidence from the CIT, naturally supporting a thought-through basic income scheme for the UK, it remains unclear whether the appeal for the government to avoid basic income is to be given any credence.
More information at:
Hannah Trippier, “United Kingdom: Study suggests that welfare conditionality does more harm than good”, Basic Income News, July 31st 2018
Genevieve Shanahan, “UK: Parliament releases summary of Oral Evidence Hearing on UBI”, Basic Income News, May 9th 2017
André Coelho, “VIDEO: UK’s Work and Pensions Committee oral evidence on basic income (summary of content)”, Basic Income News, February 18th 2017
Michael Buchanan, “Poverty causing ‘misery’ in the UK, and ministers are in denial, says UN official”, BBC News, November 16th 2018
Picture credit to: Opportunity for All (Government of Canada)
Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development for the Canadian Federal Government, has launched a call for applications to assemble a so-called National Advisory Council on Poverty. This council will be comprised of experts in poverty-related issues, and “people who have lived experienced or are currently living in poverty (…) indigenous peoples, women, persons with disabilities, visible minorities and other vulnerable groups”. The purpose is, not only having actual experience of poverty in the group, but also for it to be “representative of Canada’s linguistic, gender and regional diversity.”
This advisory group will be responsible for giving advice about programs and funding strategies which can contribute to poverty reduction, as well as produce a yearly report with detailed information on how poverty reduction goals are being met, according to agreed metrics. On top of that, the group shall also engage the public, including the academic community, several experts, indigenous people and others which experience or have experienced poverty. Applications to work with the group can be done online, until the 29th of January 2019.
The creation of this Council derives from the overarching Program “Opportunity for All”, a Canadian Federal Government initiative which it considers Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy. According to the Program’s website, the purpose of “Opportunity for All is to eradicate poverty because we are all better off when no one is left behind. Opportunity for All supports a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction, reflecting principles that include universality, non-discrimination and equality, participation of those living in poverty, accountability and working together.” It may be worth mentioning that “universality” is only mentioned on this one occasion throughout the explanation of the whole program, but nonetheless it is clearly stated here. Furthermore, the Program states that:
“Opportunity for All is about working together to end poverty so that all Canadians can live with dignity, have real and fair access to opportunities to succeed, and be resilient enough to get through difficult times. Living with dignity means that Canadians would be living without hunger and would have enough income to meet their basic needs (…)”
Although basic income is not mentioned, the reference to a universal “all Canadians” linked with “enough income to meet their needs” might point in the direction of some unconditional cash transfer program as one of the tools for poverty reduction in Canada. That would be aligned with Jean-Yves Duclos recent statements on the subject. Furthermore, the Program is based an a civic approach to problem-solving, since consultation was done to the wider population:
“Opportunity for All is guided by the thousands of voices we have heard and, in particular, the voices of those with lived experience of poverty. Canadians told us that poverty is complex, that different groups experience different risks of poverty and different challenges in getting out of poverty, and that reducing it requires a long-term commitment as well as calls for a coordinated approach with diverse groups—government and non-government alike. Canadians told us that the Strategy must contribute to a national effort to reduce poverty. It must also recognize that when some members of our communities cannot reach their full potential, we are all affected. More specifically, Canadians have said that the Poverty Reduction Strategy should be about:
Dignity – Lifting Canadians out of poverty by ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met;
Opportunity and Inclusion – Helping Canadians join the middle class by promoting full participation in society and equality of opportunity;
Resilience and Security – Supporting the middle class by protecting Canadians from falling into poverty and by supporting income security and resilience.”
Again, focusing on the needs of everyone, ensuring the full participation of all people in society and creating a solid ground so that no one falls into poverty, suggests a basic income type of policy, without explicitly mentioning it. This could mean that the National Advisory Council on Poverty will study or consider basic income somehow within its mandate, although no direct information exists to confirm it, at this moment.
More information at:
André Coelho, “Canada: Ontario’s basic income experiment ended, but the ground is fertile for more pilots”, Basic Income News, December 22nd 2018
Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy website