The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have recently published two interesting reports on the idea of a universal basic income and its relations with social protection.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s report has the objective to reflect on the desirability of advocating a basic income approach to social protection when viewed from the perspective of the international human rights law.
Acknowledging that economic insecurity presents a threat to all human rights, the UN report underlines that the rights to work, social security and an adequate standard of living should be given a prominent place in the human rights agenda. From this perspective, the debates over a universal basic income and social protection should be brought together as the two concepts have a greater potential if their synergies are recognised, rather than being ignored.
Likewise, the OECD in its recent policy brief ‘Basic Income as a Policy Option: Can it add up?’ examines the concept of a universal basic income considering the social protection dimension.
The OECD report recognises that for an unconditional payment to everyone to be meaningful and effective would bring about tax rises which may lead to a reduction in existing social protection benefits. It also points out that a basic income would often not be an adequate and effective tool to overcome poverty as it would lack any form of targeting the people experiencing poverty.
Both reports coming from different perspectives draw similar conclusions with the UN experts report concluding that “the utopian vision may also provide the much-needed impetus to rethink the optimal shape of social protection explicitly designed to achieve universal realization of the human right to an adequate standard of living in the twenty-first century”. While the OECD reports concludes that “In view of the rapid changes in the labour market the ongoing discussions of BI options do, however, provide a valuable impetus for much needed debates about the type of social protection that societies want, and for the search of reform options that are socially and politically feasible”.