In addition to the health risks it poses to everyone, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing a partial or total loss of income for many. The French Movement for a Basic Income (MFRB) considers it more necessary than ever to establish a sustainable universal income. This is what Spain has just done: the government is introducing the Universal Basic Income at a time when the country needs it most.
In these times of health, economic, social and environmental crisis, the idea of a universal, unconditional and individual income is making a strong comeback in debates around the world. Faced with this craze, it is becoming urgent to reflect collectively and democratically on the conditions for its implementation. To make it a true measure of transformative social justice and not a band-aid on the current system, which was developed in a hurry.
The Spanish Government would therefore be taking an unprecedented step. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on the national and global economy, a universal basic income should be introduced in Spain.
The Universal Basic Income will transform Spain
The news agency Bloomberg reported On Sunday the Spanish Minister of Economy, Nadia Calvino, said in an interview that a new basic income policy would be " implementation as soon as possible« . The objective being that this initiative should evolve into something " which remains forever, which becomes a structural instrument, a permanent instrument..."
This could become one of the greatest achievements of universal basic income in the world. Trials have taken place in Finland and the Canadian province of Ontario in limited numbers. But the Spanish government, led by the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, seems to be aiming for a longer-term implementation for this country of 47 million people.
The proposal has already received a warm welcome. Andrew Yang, who ran for president in this year's presidential election under a pro-UBI banner, said on Tuesday that "[t]he proposal has already been warmly welcomed. the United States should follow suit« The unemployment rate has reached 10 million, which is a staggering 10 million.
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Guy Standing, an economist and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told the newspaper El Pais than the pandemic had created the urgency to put in place a basic income: " In these countries, which are still in the initial phase of the pandemic, the Basic Income should be implemented as soon as possible.. You can't buy soap or clean water without the money to do so, and it is easier to transfer it directly to people who organize a complex system of subsidies."
Spain's Minister of Social Security, José Luis Escriva, will develop the initiative, focusing on support for families. According to The Local, the objective is to offer 440 euros per month. The minimum wage in Spain is currently 950 € per month.
Why is Spain introducing a universal basic income?
The coronavirus pandemic that swept the world this year is uprooting economies around the world. The Hill reports that Spain is the second most affected country by the epidemic in Europe and the third in the world after Italy and the United States. The total number of cases in Spain exceeded that of China at the end of March. On Monday 6 April, the country had suffered 13,055 virus-related deaths.
On 14 March, the Spanish government set up a series of containment measuresThe law prohibits people from leaving the house except in limited circumstances. Three days later, the government announced a €200 billion coronavirus control plan that included state-guaranteed credit guarantees for businesses.
March 31st, Euractiv reported that the government had introduced other economic policies to mitigate the effects of these bans. These included a six-month ban on eviction, an extension of the moratorium on mortgages and a subsidy of 440 euros per month for domestic workers forced to stop working.
The Spanish economic situation then worsened. On 2 April, l’Independent reported that Spain had lost 900,000 jobs since the beginning of the crisis, the biggest loss in its history after the depression of the 1930s and the crash of 2008. The number of registered unemployed reached 3.5 million in March.
A universal basic income has already been proposed in Spain. In 2016, the city of A Coruña has set up a basic income at small scale that has made it possible to pay between €532 and €1,064 per month to low-income families. Representatives of the Podemos party, which is part of the current government coalition, lobbied in 2016 for a Basic Income in the Autonomous Region of Andalusia.
The room reports that the idea came back to the fore after the November 2019 general elections, in which the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and Podemos agreed on a universal basic income as part of their new coalition agreement. The agreement does not set a deadline for its implementation, but the pandemic appears to have created an emergency shock.
You don't solve a problem with the ways of thinking that led to it.
While the Covid-19 epidemic has become global, petitions to this effect are also circulating in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and even Europe. In France, a movement of intermittent workers and self-employed people are asking for a guarantee of income in the face of the heavy losses incurred in their profession. The MFRB wonders in a collective forum published in the press: Why is the idea of a universal income coming back in force in this context of health crisis? A first answer could be that its criticisms, particularly concerning our relationship to work and the financial cost of the measure, are weakened.
In the current state of the crisis, and as anthropologist David Graeber has already analysed, some of the jobs that are indispensable to society are among the worst paid - we can see this today with care workers, home helps, cashiers and garbage collectors.
On the other hand, the current situation also sheds light on the bullshit jobsThese jobs are often very well paid, but in the end they have little or no social utility in everyday life.
Inequalities are made all the more visible in the situation of confinement we live in. Not all of us are equal when it comes to the possibility of teleworking, exercising the right to withdraw from work or accessing short-time working. For some people, there is no choice but to go out to work, to risk their lives, sometimes for non-essential activities.
Taking Spain as an example, a Basic Income could help to overcome these glaring inequalities. By providing real protection for the whole of society, without exception. By guaranteeing that no one is left on the sidelines, be it the unemployed, the intermittent workers, the handicapped, micro-entrepreneurs, platform workers and, above all, these new proletarians, the big losers of uberization, who constitute what economist Guy Standing calls the "precariat".
What kind of society do we want as we emerge from this crisis?
The issue of universal income financing is also a recurrent source of debate. However, we can only conclude today that there is a poor distribution of wealth, which has led to the scrapping of public services, such as hospitals and research, which have been sacrificed on the altar of economic profitability. The Secretary of State to the Minister of the Economy and Finance hammered this point home during the debates on the rectifying finance bill in the Senate: "We are not going to be able to do anything about it," she said. The priority is to save the companies. "And indeed, billions are being released urgently to respond to structural problems on an ad hoc basis, without questioning the system as a whole.
In ancient Greek, the word krisis means decision. It means deciding what kind of society we want at the end of this crisis: to protect the current failed system, which will fight to survive at all costs, or to make a more profound change?
The Basic Income is also at the crossroads of these paths: implemented in an emergency context, in a short-termistic logic and outside any democratic debate, it would serve as nothing more and nothing less than a spare wheel for neoliberalism, as can already be seen in certain contexts. This is the case in the United States, where President Trump has announced that he wants to send a cheque for $1,200 to the most precarious populations ($500 for children). This will be a one-off, short-term emergency response, since it will be just one cheque, in a society where the very fact of being hit by Covid-19 can lead to ruin.
In contrast, other voices propose strengthening social safety nets through the establishment of a universal income as part of a long-term transformation project for the country. This is the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest Democrat representative in the US Congress: "We are not just talking about a universal income. This is no time for half-measures. We must act urgently to avoid the worst consequences in terms of public health and the economic crisis. This includes paying short-time working, debt relief, strengthening workers' rights, guaranteeing universal health care, providing a universal basic income and waiving prison sentences."
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The Income Base Movement is in line with this second logic. At this crossroads, to take the path that will lead us to a supportive and resilient society. This path will be a collective one and they say they are present alongside movements and individuals ready to mobilize to bring about a structural change in the current system. Future crises, whatever their nature, can be better contained if our societies place social justice and ecology at the heart of their functioning. This will involve strengthening public services and labour law. To promote freedom of choice and to encourage activities that are chosen and not suffered.
It will also be necessary to strengthen our social protection in order to provide everyone in all circumstances with the protection they are entitled to. To that end, a truly transformative Basic Income must serve that purpose.
(Source : MFRB - Collective Forum)
Beyond a universal emergency income, which is absolutely vital in the short term for millions of French people, it is therefore necessary to question the sustainability of a universal income, its potential benefits and its financing options. Many models have been developed, and for some options it could be extremely simple to implement and inexpensive. As such, a CLIC (Citizens' Lobby of General Interest) campaign is being internationalized, which can now be found in Englishand from next week in German and Spanish. If you want to help add other languages please send a message to : contact[at]lobby-citoyen.org
This campaign is in partnership with Unconditional Bascic Income Europe and the Mouvement Français pour le Revenu de Base (MFRB).
Header image: Oscar del Pozo AFP