Spain, Finland, France … universal income is gaining ground in Europe

After the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to reflect on the “next world”. For its defenders, it is time for a universal income that would protect citizens financially in the face of crises. The Spanish government became the first in Europe to take a step towards it on Friday.

A ghost haunts Europe, spectacular of universal income. Faced with the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the idea of ​​a basic income being paid to all citizens is gaining ground to respond to the severe recession that many predict.

On Friday, May 29, Spain, one of the European countries with the highest poverty rate, took its first step towards this. The Spanish government has approved the establishment of a minimum income to be paid to the poorest. The issue of universal income was at the heart of the coalition agreement between the socialists and the radical leftist party Podemos.

“A new social right is born today in Spain,” welcomed Pablo Iglesias, Deputy Chairman of the Government and Leader of Podemos, after the Council of Ministers, stressing that the crisis had “accelerated entry into force” from this first step towards a general income.

For its defenders, a basic income has the advantage of protecting the most vulnerable in the face of economic uncertainties, which the current health crisis is an example of while stimulating consumption. It also helps to support those who are excluded from current safety nets such as self-employed, part-time or informal sector workers.

The idea is moving forward in Europe

Spanish thoughts are far from an isolated case in Europe. In Scotland, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke publicly about it during a coronavirus survey in Edinburgh: “The time has come for basic general income,” she said. She said she had “constructive discussions” with the British government on the subject, with Scotland not yet having authority over the issue.

In Italy, The 5-star movement, with power since 2018, campaigned to establish a universal basic income of a substantial amount for all Italians. Prior to the state of the Italian economy, she chose a “citizen’s income”, a grant to help the poorest.

In France, the question of universal income had entered the political debate sparked by Benoît Hamon during the Socialist primary and since the 2017 presidential election.

The Jean-Jaurès Foundation, think tank with ideas close to the socialist party, reworked the idea and produced the proposal as protection against the economic crisis: it offers unconditional income, automatically from the age of the majority, declining and with an amount between 725 and 1000 euros per month. In addition, 80 political and civilian personalities signed an appeal on 4 May the establishment of a “citizen base”. Corsica wants for its part experience it in its territory.

Oxford University study shows that 70% of Europeans support the concept of basic general income.

And outside the old continent, the idea is starting to take hold. Pope Francis himself defended the idea in a letter to his “brothers and sisters to the popular movements” on April 12. In the United States, the Republican administration of Donald Trump has included direct cash payments of up to $ 3,000 per family to keep the economy on a drip.

These experiments are not strictly speaking about basic universal incomes, insofar as they are exclusively aimed at workers or poor households and that they are currently temporary or occasional. However, by reducing the importance of checks under the beneficiaries, these experiments reinforce the idea of ​​a feasibility of general basic income.

Finnish experiment not repeated

Finland is undoubtedly the country where the experiment has gone the longest. From 1your From June 2017 to December 31, 2018, 2000 unemployed workers received EUR 560 each month without compensation. This income can be combined with family allowances and salaries upon return to employment.

Finland’s Social Security made its results on May 6 compared to a non-favored control group of unemployed. The benefits of Finnish basic income are more psychological than financial: 55% of the participants in the experiment explained that they felt in good or very good health, compared with 46% in the control group. The recipients also had lower stress levels than in the control group. However, the effect was less on returning to work: 43.7% of beneficiaries found a job, compared with 42.8% in the control group. A result that nonetheless discourages the classic and short-term criticism of an unemployed person who has dropped in assistance with this new income.

Despite these encouraging results, the Finnish government has chosen not to defend the initiative because of the too weak effect on the reduction of unemployment and fear of an increase in the deficit in the event of generalization.

Money, the nerve of war for universal income

It is with money that the shoe is pinched. Establishing a universal basic income, like all social benefits, requires government investment.

“In the crisis scenario emerging before us, I do not see how a government would initiate a logic of universal income, with pressure from financial markets, banks and international financial organizations on the countries’ budget,” lamented Joan Cortinas-Munoz, a researcher at the Center for Sociology of Organizations at Sciences Po Paris and social policy specialist in Spain, was interviewed in April by France 24

2017 The OECD had thus appreciated so that in general public income does not weigh on public finances, the amount should be € 527 for Finland, € 158 in Italy or even € 456 in France. But far from the respective poverty lines in these countries.

Not all critics come from supporters of liberalism. For some of the Left, universal income is a Trojan horse for a liberal vision of society. Universal income could be used to further liberalize the labor market: since society provides a minimum income, employers would benefit from it to lower wages. For these critics, universal income is a departure from social security.

“In its liberal view, universal income should replace social protection (health insurance, housing allowances, etc.). However, this is important because so many safety nets to avoid falling into extreme poverty”, ATD Fourth World Rating.

The idea remains hopeful for its followers. If the Covid epidemic that shakes the planet gives birth to a “next world”, universal income may well be the first seed.