At a time of rising uncertainty and concern for the future, the Coronavirus has provoked questions which stretch far beyond the current pandemic, forcing us to confront the very core of our existence.
COVID-19 has revealed deep systemic flaws which have long existed but which can no longer be suppressed, leading many to surmise that the world as we knew it will never quite be the same again. This sounds daunting – the prospect that we may never return to our prior versions of ‘normality’ – yet it has real potential for good; for essential, positive change.
COVID-19 has prompted crucial reflections, many of which large swathes of society have been demanding for decades: Shouldn’t healthcare be accessible to all, regardless of wealth? Do prisoners and detainees not deserve greater rights?
One such contemplation which has received significant attention in recent weeks has been the widely debated concept of universal basic income.
What is Universal Basic Income?
To put it as succinctly as possible, universal basic income would provide every citizen, regardless of socioeconomic status, with unconditional, regular and guaranteed payments. It would give everyone the means to subsistence, without reliance on employment for survival.
How is Universal Basic Income relevant to the Coronavirus?
With the economic fallout from the Coronavirus set to be catastrophic, it is essential to provide robust support to all – particularly those who are most likely to be plunged into poverty as a result of a global recession.
Just last week, Spain announced that it is taking steps to implement a permanent basic income to help workers and families through providing regular payments to its most vulnerable citizens. While this cannot be classed as universal basic income as it is aimed specifically towards those who require it the most, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Since Spain’s announcement, Pope Francis has similarly come forward to urge governments to consider implementing UBI. A universal basic wage, he suggests, would help to combat the economic disruption caused by COVID-19.
‘We are all weathering the same storm, but we are not in the same boat’Brittany Packett, Cosmopolitan
Economists have warned that the Coronavirus will intensify inequalities; this we are already seeing, as BAME people and the most disadvantaged socioeconomic groups are bearing the brunt of the disease.
In a piece for Cosmopolitan which points to the gut-wrenching fact that Black people account for 72% of the coronavirus-related deaths in Chicago, 40% in Detroit and 70% in Louisiana, Brittany Packnett powerfully asserts: ‘We are all weathering the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.’
It is crucial that leaders across the globe work to prevent this ongoing suffering of the most vulnerable immediately and this requires a significant change to the system as we know it.
So far, in just three weeks, around 16.8 million people across the US have applied to receive unemployment benefits
The lack of a social safety net in the US in particular has become devastatingly apparent since the outbreak of COVID-19. 10,000 cars queued at a San Antonio food bank in Texas last week, owing to millions across the US having lost their jobs and being unable to access any immediate form of financial support. So far, in just three weeks, around 16.8 million people across the nation have applied to receive unemployment benefits.
It goes without saying that with the loss of employment comes a stark rise in financial insecurity, with many struggling to provide basic necessities for their families. People cannot afford to wait for standard benefit sanctions – they require immediate assistance.
While some argue that universal basic income would discourage citizens from working, results from Finland’s basic income experiment found little to no impact on the likelihood of citizens undertaking paid employment.
Universal basic income would not solve all of society’s ills however, at a time like this, it seems reasonable to conclude that the merits far outweigh the risks.