One side effect of the Covid-19 crisis has been a remarkable upsurge in interest in the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). In the UK, over 170 MPs and Lords across parties have called for an “Emergency UBI,” while 84 per cent of the public now back its introduction. Spain, especially heavily hit by the epidemic, is now looking seriously at the introduction of such a scheme.
A UBI is a guaranteed, unconditional payment made to all eligible residents. A key reason for this jump in interest is the potential of such a system to mitigate, at speed, the economic fallout of the epidemic on incomes and livelihoods.
If a universal basic income scheme had been in place before coronavirus, it would have provided an automatic mechanism for delivering essential income top-ups.
It would also constitute a vital instrument for boosting demand to help offset an unprecedented collapse in economic activity and inevitable rise in joblessness. While there have been moves to support some incomes through wage subsidies and benefit changes, a UBI would have provided a much less complex and more comprehensive and immediate mechanism for delivering support. Despite the government’s moves, millions suffering a collapse in their incomes will miss out.
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