By James Moules
THE government of Spain is introducing an ambitious basic income plan to aid thousands left poverty stricken as a result of the economic fallout from the pandemic – but campaigners suggest governments could go further.
The plan put forward by the left-of-centre PSOE-Podemos government would see thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable Spanish citizens receive a minimum payment of €462 per month.
The move is intended to help hundreds of thousands of Spaniards cope with the increased economic pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, while many commentators have characterised the measures as a form of basic income, advocates of UBI have emphasised that the Spanish policy is not a universal system.
Redaction spoke to the advocacy group Basic Income UK, which supports Universal Basic Income, for their reaction to the Spanish policy proposals.
Richard High, a spokesperson for the group, said: “Any move designed to help people move out of poverty is welcome.
“However, the scheme announced by Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ general secretary, and Spain’s deputy prime minister and minister for social rights in early April 2020, is not a universal basic income, rather it’s a means tested benefit for households that, as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis, have lost their income and who are not entitled to unemployment benefits.
“It’s estimated the scheme would cost 3 billion Euros and help four out of five people in severe poverty and benefit approximately 850,000 households, so, while it is not universal, or unconditional, it is a welcome step in the right direction.”
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a policy proposal that would see a regular sum of money granted to every single citizen of any given nation or society as an inalienable right.
This differs from the Spanish plans insofar as their proposed system of minimum income is means tested, not universal.
Mr High added that: “There is a big faction of Podemos which supports a truly universal basic income, and indeed early on it was in the party’s national manifesto.
“This is especially strong in the Basque country, where they already have a minimum income scheme to similar what the national government is bringing in.”
He said that while he did not see the Spanish system as a “necessary” stepping stone to universal basic income, he believed “it is a welcome one.”
Basic Income UK is pushing for the adoption of UBI in the UK and elsewhere.
Mr High said that in the UK: “the government could have paid everyone a basic income from the start of the Covid crisis, truly levelling the playing field for all of us, instead of the piecemeal approach it has taken, which has seen too many people ‘fall through the cracks’, left destitute and hungry.
“Going forward, if the new test and trace policy puts individuals into quarantine, there have been no guarantees about sick pay so far.
“Similarly, there seem to be no plans to extend the inadequate support given so far to self-employed people. A basic income would help solve this problem.”
However, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has previously stated before Parliament that the UK government does not intend to introduce UBI.
He said: “We’re not in favour of a universal basic income, although we have strengthened the safety net for the most vulnerable in our society with over £7 billion invested into improving our welfare system for this year.”
Spain is not the only nation that has floated various forms of basic/minimum income policies in recent years.
Finland recently ran a trial Basic Income scheme throughout 2017 and 2018, while the populist Five Star Movement in Italy stood on a platform of introducing a similar ‘Citizens’ Income’ programme.
The policy is supported by figures on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.
Mr High explained: “Basic income is supported by people and parties on all sides, so it should come as no surprise its supporters are international and politically diverse.
“Prominent contemporary advocates include Economics Nobel Prize winners Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides, tech investor and engineer Elon Musk, political philosopher Philippe Van Parijs, former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and entrepreneur and non-profit founder Andrew Yang, who ran for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 US presidential election on a platform of instituting a $1,000-a-month universal basic income.”
“Historically there have been proponents on the left and the right, for whom it appeals in different ways.
“Those on the right like the idea of smaller government, less interference in people’s personal lives, savings on the benefit budget/admin, and greater freedom and choice, while those on the left like that it removes the stigma attached to the current means-tested benefit system, the universalist ethos, and helping eradicating poverty.”
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