At this head-to-head debate, organised by the European Policy Centre, speakers discussed these two ways of guaranteeing social protection and addressing the growing social challenges of today. Yannick Vanderborght, Professor of Political Science at Université Saint Louis and member of the BIEN board, defended the reasons why basic income is a good solution to avoid arbitrary distinctions between deserving and non-deserving poor, avoid stigma and shame that cause non-take-up, whilst at the same time avoiding poverty traps. Anne Van Lancker, EMIN policy coordinator, explained what adequate, accessible and enabling minimum income schemes could bring, not just to the people who need them, but to the whole of society. She made it clear that EMIN seeks to progressively change existing poor, conditioned and punitive systems into universally accessible income support as an essential element of social protection floors, that must ensure access to basic income security for all over the life cycle. She stressed that, when allocating public resources, priority should be given to systems that respect ‘progressive universalism’, ensuring universal rights whilst at the same time granting more help to people who really need it. It is clear that basic income scenarios require a lot more funding than lifting minimum income systems above the poverty threshold.
The debate showed clearly that, despite the difference between both proposals, there are also many common approaches to the issue of income security. Conclusions seem to be that on eliminating conditionality and ensuring individual rights, both proposals show more common ground than expected. Therefore, Anne expressed the wish to cooperate more closely between the two networks, to engage in discussions on new ways of looking at poverty eradication, quality of work and social protection and redistribution of income.
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”.
UN Special Rapporteur Report
OECD Policy brief