Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Introduce Universal Basic Income in Jamaica

I believe it is time that Jamaica takes radical and new approaches to solving its socio-economic issues. One new and radical approach being explored in many cities, states, and nations globally is universal basic income (UBI), which is a no-strings-attached stipend from the Government.

Cities in England, like Bristol, and Los Angeles (LA) in the USA have launched UBI programmes.

The UBI test run in LA gives over 3,000 families under the poverty line US$1,000 every month to supplement income. UBI was a major part of former candidate Andrew Yang's platform in the 2020 Democratic primaries, reigniting the conversation about UBI in the mainstream.

Predicting the impact of such an unprecedented upheaval in the relationship between the State and the individual is unsurprisingly difficult, though, as is gathering evidence for or against it. There have been several small-scale trials, but the most ambitious to date took place in Finland from 2017 to 2018, and the final report was published in The Guardian a few years ago.

The study selected 2,000 unemployed people at random and gave them unconditional monthly payments of €560. Their outcomes were then compared against 173,000 people on Finland's standard unemployment benefits.

The headline finding was that those who received the unconditional payments reported significantly improved financial and mental well-being. They also saw a slight improvement in employment, with recipients working an average of six more days between November 2017 and October 2018 than the control group. This would seem to contradict fears that such a scheme would demotivate people from seeking work.

Aside from the raw economic outcomes, though, surveys of the participants found that they scored better on measures of well-being, financial security, and confidence in the future. The authors of the report told The Guardian that the recipients felt more empowered to take on voluntary work or attempt to start new ventures.

The study can only tell us so much, though. Despite being the largest trial to date, it's hard to extrapolate the results up to the scale of a nationwide programme, and it's also impossible to predict what impact similar interventions would have in countries with very different cultures and governmental systems.

Nonetheless, falling in the middle of the biggest global disaster of this century, the study's release was a timely reminder that it might be time for politicians around the world to re-evaluate their relationship with the welfare State.

So now that we know UBI has been trialled throughout the world, yet remains out of Jamaica's public and political discussions, it is time to embrace its possibilities and begin to examine the introduction of a universal basic income grant (BIG) and drop austerity measures amid crippling inflation, poverty, and rising unemployment levels and a health-care crisis.

A recent survey found that 71 per cent of Europeans now support UBI, and Pope Francis pushed the idea in his 2020 Easter address.

Spain's minister for economy and digitalisation Nadia Calvino SantamarĂ­a said the Government would soon roll out some form of basic income that would stay in place past the end of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

I am also disappointed with civil society movements in Jamaica as they have not entertained or campaigned for the implementation of a UBI. I contend that $15,500 per month, roughly the average or equivalent of most UBI programmes internationally, for all unemployed between the ages of 18 and 59, for starters, would do much to stimulate our stagnant economy. In time the programme can be expanded to include caregivers, home-based workers, and workers who earn below the national minimum wage, till an eventual national roll-out.

This will bring much-needed relief to millions of Jamaicans who are languishing in poverty.

Yannick Nesta Pessoa