What is an emergency basic income?

We are in the midst of a massive global pandemic

Everyday, we see the physiological and medical impact all around us. However, the Covid-19 crisis goes beyond simply health-based impacts. With cities on lockdown, borders closing and markets crashing, the economic impacts on the day-to-day lives of people are potentially catastrophic.

The most severely impacted economically are vulnerable workers engaged in a gig-economy or in informal sectors. This significant portion of the working population globally works with almost no security or safety net to be able to survive a prolonged period of little to no earnings, especially when a number of these workers are still earning just enough for sustenance.

In this context, we believe that an emergency basic income is necessary to provide the emancipatory lease of life these workers need. While a basic income in this economic situation will provide relief to every citizen/person, it will particularly help for the most vulnerable, who can receive the support required to just about get through this crisis.

In South Asia, more than 80 percent of non-agricultural workers are in the informal sector, with no contracts, no safety net, and no employer obligations. In the UK, the percentage of workers beneath the poverty line in the United Kingdom has grown from 10 percent to 13 percent in the last 20 years, with 56 percent of people in poverty belonging to a working family. In present-day Britain, you can work and still be so poor that you struggle to get by, because that job is insecure and poorly paid, and essential expenditure is so high.

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What happens to these people when the daily wages, the contractual work, the tips and all the other uncertain sources of income start to close down? How do they pay their rent, buy their food, deal with their debts?

Emergency basic income will need governments across the world to design customised solutions to rollout plans urgently and carefully. While different forms of bailout packages and grants are being announced by various governments, a basic income will support all people, no matter their type of employment, sector or situation. This grounded, holistic approach can possibly be a life-jacket to vulnerable people on a rapidly sinking ship.

What is a basic income?

A basic income is a simple but potent tool to provide welfare, security and development in the lives of the most vulnerable. Basic income is a modest and periodic payment made to citizens without testing for means, requirement or identity. The underlying principle behind this policy is that each individual has the right to a dignified life, which modern day working arrangements or government welfare doesn’t necessarily guarantee. An ideal basic income has six elements: universality, unconditionality, cash-based, individualised, monthly and lasts for a lifetime.

Over the last few decades, the idea of a basic income has gained great prominence, even as it was first suggested over 500 years ago! This is evident with the rise of multiple policy proposals, pilot programmes and even as a presidential candidature plank in the US! Pilots and research are throwing up encouraging evidence of the emancipatory impact of a basic income in providing security and stimulus in the lives of people across socioeconomic strata and geographies. Further, it seems to be a crucial component of a world preparing for the rise of artificial intelligence and imminent climate change.