In the current context of a global pandemic, the universal basic income (UBI) policy has been gaining ground all over the world. Given this sudden raise of awareness about UBI, it was important for the French Movement for a Basic Income (MFRB), as well as 40 other French civil society organizations and public figures, to highlight the importance of having a real democratic debate around its implementation.
These UBI advocates support the idea of basic income, but not at all costs. Basic income finds itself at the crossroad of two very different paths: it can either be included in a series of measures aiming at promoting a social and environmental transition, or it can be a plaster to the current neoliberal system. In the French context, where the social protection system has been strong for the past decades, but which has also been attacked in recent years, the risks of having UBI used politically to weaken established social rights are also important.
That is why the implementation of a real protective basic income must not only be about the economy, but be an outgrowth of a real democratic debate. That to make sure it will help reduce inequalities, reinforce labor rights and help create social protection systems. And to improve working conditions of the “essential jobs” that are currently underpaid and at the frontline of the sanitary crisis. It shall also be used to question the relevancy of “bullshit jobs”.
The strength of UBI has always relied on its capacity to promote debates on an extremely wide range of topics. Today, more than ever, it is crucial to debate collectively about the society we want in the aftermath of this crisis.
The original article [in French]:
Colective at MFRB, “Revenu de base: l’urgence d’une société plus solidaire [Basic Income: the urgence of a more supportive society]”, Politis, April 2nd 2020
Homeless people in San Francisco, during the corona virus crisis days. Picture credit to: Aljazeera
On February 26th, 2020, the first case of Covid – 19 was registered in Brazil. Like in so many other countries, the coronavirus epidemic spread quickly in Brazil. On Sunday, April 5th 2020, 11130 people are infected (with a total population of 209 million) and 486 deaths have occurred in the country. In the past three weeks, the Brazilian authorities have recommended people to stay at home, avoid agglomerations and to go out of their homes only for emergencies. Commerce has closed. As in other countries, only pharmacies, supermarkets, take away services at restaurants, gas stations and a few others essential services have remained functional. Many people cannot work and have been unable to earn enough for their survival.
Brazil was the first nation in the world in which the Federal Congress, with the approval of all political parties, approved the Law 10.835/2004, that institutes a Citizen’s Basic Income to all its inhabitants, including for foreigners living in Brazil for five or more years. Although never implemented as an unconditional program in Brazil, it gave rise to the means tested Bolsa Família program, which covers 14.3 million families today, or around 47 million inhabitants, almost ¼ of the Brazilian population.
Given these latest developments on the corona virus crisis, many civil associations like the Rede Brasileira da Renda Básica, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, Movimento de Trabalhadores Sem Teto, Movimento Nacional da População em Situação de Rua, União dos Movimentos de Moradia, UNEAFRO Brasil (among many others), as well as many economists, philosophers, social scientists and people of different walks of life, from Brazil and elsewhere, have claimed for the urgent need to implement a basic income in the country. To that purpose, in March 19th 2020, all Brazilian State Governors signed a letter to the Federal Government “to mitigate the effects of the crisis over the poorest part of population, especially with respect to employment and informality, and to evaluate the application of Law 10.835/2004 which institutes a Citizen’s Basic Income, so as to provide resources to protect this economically vulnerable population”.
Last week, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies and the National Senate approved a Law, sanctioned by President Jair Bolsonaro on April 2nd 2020, that institutes an Emergency Benefit or an Emergency Basic Income unconditionally (not dependent on how it is spent by beneficiaries) providing R$600 (US$113) per month to all adults with more than 18 years old. That is to be given to a maximum of two in each family, reaching R$1200 for each family, covering all people who belong to families with aggregate income up to three minimum wages (R$3135) per month, or half the minimum wage (R$522) per capita per month. For a monoparental family, the father or the mother will receive R$1200 per month. If an adolescent of less than 18 years of age has a child, she (or he) will also receive the benefit (of R$1200). This stipend will be valid for three months, which might be prolongued for a longer period, depending on the continuation of the pandemic economic crisis.
In Brazil, around 75 million people are registered under Cadastro Único as earning less than three minimum wages. An estimated 15 to 20 million more have still to register, and can now do that through an applicative via internet. Public Banks such as the Caixa Econômica Federal, Banco do Brasil, Banco do Nordeste do Brasil, Lottery Houses and private banks will cooperate in providing this Emergency Benefit or Emergency Basic Income.
The payment of the R$600 reaching more than 70 million people, one third of the Brazilian population, for three or six months might imply an increase in demand for goods and services which can stimulate the production of a greater supply of high priority goods and services, with positive effects in raising employment opportunities.
More information at:
“Congress approves basic income due to coronavirus crisis while Planalto fights for protagonism“, Time24News, March 31st 2020
This article was based on a letter written by Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy (Co-President of Honor of the Basic Income Earth Network and President of Honor of the Rede Brasileira da Renda Básica)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Picture credit to: Fox 32
As the corona virus crisis unfolds, the political atmosphere heats up in the United States. At the Capitol, a 2 trillion dollar bill is in the making, specifically to deal with the economic downturn caused by the epidemic.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the Democrat Representative of the Bronx constituency in New York City, already called for measures like paid leave, debt relief, waiving work requirements, guaranteeing healthcare, universal basic income (UBI) and detention relief. She has recognized that the current bill under discussion is, indeed, partly unconditional (around 500 billion dollars), although she has shown concerns that this money may not reach those more in need of it, but go to large corporations which are seeing their profits plummet at this point.
AOC had already shown simpathy for the basic income policy in the recent past, although in an ambivalent manner. In the face of a “systemic [economic] shock” the corona virus crisis is creating, however, she has again reached for the UBI, at least as an emergency economic measure. That idea, in fact, has motivated more than 500 academics, public figures and (basic income) advocates to call for such a policy, which was manifested in a public letter.
Even on the Republican side of Congress, this kind of approach is getting support. Republican Senator Mitt Romney has said that “urgent action on additional coronavirus response measures [are] aimed at providing economic relief for working Americans and families.” Others, like Congressmen Tim Ryan and Ro Khanna, plus Tulsi Gabbard, have also very recently proposed legislation that will allow the distribution of (unconditional) checks onto people’s hands, resembling the idea Andrew Yang had been proposing for most of his Presidential Campaign. The Congress Financial Services Committee, as a matter of fact, is aiming to release legislation, as part of the 2 trillion dollar bill rollout, that would put an immediate 2000 US$ in the hands of every American, with an additional 1000 US$ for every child.
Even as the crisis unfolds, critics worry that the basic income policy, even applied over this context, maybe too expensive, while remaining senseless to pay a 1000 $/month for the duration of the contention/recession to billionaires. AOC replies to both those fears shortly and concisely: that (given the situation) it should really be more, and that there is no need to means-test when it can be taxed back (from the relatively more wealthy) in the next fiscal year.
More information at:
CNN Politics “AOC’s message to young people on coronavirus” video
MSNBC, “AOC on coronavirus rescue bill” video
Zachary Keyser, “AOC: We need universal healthcare, basic income to fight coronavirus“, Jerusalem Post, March 20th 2020
Soomi Lee, “Why an emergency Universal Basic Income makes sense during the Covid-19 pandemic“, London School of Economics (US Centre),
Abby Vesoulis, “‘I’ll Be a Very Happy Man.’ Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Turn Andrew Yang’s $1,000 Promise Into Reality?“, TIME, March 17th 2020
“Why more than 500 political figures and academics globally have called for universal basic income in the fight against coronavirus“, Letter published by the Independent, March 18th 2020
The pair Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark have analyzed the corona virus outbreak and consequent economic downturn and call for an immediate implementation of basic income in each country, truly a global response to a global crisis. It can be read, from the onset of the article:
Apart from the medical threat revealing a brutal class divide in healthcare, the coronavirus pandemic is creating social and economic havoc among non-rich populations. If ever the need for a universal basic income was evident, it is now. But governments, trying to save the neoliberal system, and making the most of the disaster to lay the foundations for a new round of disaster capitalism, won’t see it. To give a couple of examples of this catastrophe profiteering, laissez-faire entrepreneur par excellence, Sir Richard Branson, wants a £7.5 billion government bailout for his airline, and Trump has proposed a $700 billion stimulus package in which industries will be “stimulated” at the expense of Social Security and, once again, the poor. So much for the free market.
More information at:
Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark, “Covid-19 and the Need, Right Now, For a Universal Basic Income“, Counterpunch, March 19th 2020
The Basic Income Network (BIN) Italia has published a petition pleading for the Italian governement and Parliament to immediately install an emergency basic income. There, it can be read:
To the Italian government and Parliament
EXPANDING THE CITIZEN’S INCOME SCHEME! IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
Right at a time when it is recognised that individuals must act as active and responsible members of their communities, it is necessary to prove we all truly adhere to the idea of a society that fulfils its members’ real needs. In short, it is time to guarantee the right to existence for all human beings.
Now that we are all facing sudden and unexpected changes, appropriate political and social structures are needed in order to both respond to the current (corona virus) emergency and introduce an universal social protection measure. It is time to simplify the social protection schemes so as to include the whole population, thus guaranteeing each individual access to these protections regardless of whether they are employed or not.
In 2019, Italy introduced a citizen’s income scheme which, if properly reformed in terms of universal access and less binding criteria, can be an important tool to support people and ensure them the right to access the resources they need to survive.
Therefore, we believe it is urgently necessary to:
- Expand access to the Citizen’s Income Scheme for all those who are excluded from social safety nets;
- Simplify procedures and access criteria, and make immediate benefit payments to new applicants;
- Deliver the benefit payment on an individual basis;
- Remove the existing constraints in terms of active labour market policies or other binding criteria, which now more than ever prove to be expensive and ineffective;
- Use all forms of financing, including European funds, to support a broader number of citizens’ income beneficiaries;
- Provide that changes made in terms of universal access do not end after the “quarantine” or “emergency” period, but rather become structural, thus eventually forming the basis for a new highly inclusive social welfare system.
Social Welfare is not a cost, but an investment!
The petition has been undersigned and supported by dozens of organizations operating in the Italian territory.