Covid-19 means basic income schemes being debated ‘as never before’

5 May 20

Brazil has created an emergency basic income scheme for informal workers, to help them through the coronavirus pandemic, and advocates of universal basic income believe the crisis could make policymakers around the world seriously consider permanent schemes of their own.


Brazilians will receive BRL600 (around £95) per month under the scheme – more if they are single parents – to stop them falling into extreme poverty.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, there was a big movement in Brazilian society,” Eduardo Suplicy, councilman in São Paulo and a strong advocate of UBI, told PFF.

“Because of this, many social movements and organisations sent a manifesto telling the national congress and federal government to provide a minimum income for people who are very poor and aff ected by the crisis.”

Suplicy was the driving force behind a 2004 law that means the government must introduce UBI step-by-step for all Brazilians.

The law made Brazil the first country in the world to make UBI a legal imperative, and schemes now support a large portion of the country.

About 14 million of the poorest families currently receive funds under Brazil’s largest scheme, the Bolsa Família (family allowance), and Suplicy said one-third of the country’s 210 million population is likely to receive the new emergency payments.

According to the councilman, the economic crisis has further sharpened interest in permanent, universal schemes – in Brazil and beyond.

“Never before has the citizen’s basic income been debated with such interest as now, and in so many countries,” he said, citing examples in Spain, the US, Namibia, South Korea and Canada.

Professor Louise Haagh, co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network and academic at the University of York, agreed that UBI is climbing the agenda.

“The discussion is important because it focuses attention on security in society generally, which is an antidote to the steady corrosion of security in both services and income during austerity,” she told PFF.

“It is not a magic solution to security in society as a whole – or to the current crisis, by any means – but it represents a welcome return to a sense of solidarity,” said Haagh, who advocates for a ‘foundation model’ in which UBI is one pillar supporting a wider welfare system.

Basic income can support other policies in areas such as health, education and employment, she said, and should form part of a patchwork of social schemes that governments should be considering as the world emerges from the pandemic.

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