#8 The G|O Briefing, July 30, 2020

#8 The G|O Briefing, July 30, 2020

In a report published last week, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), argued for a Temporary Basic Income (UBI) in order to protect poor and vulnerable people in developing countries from COVID-19.

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

Today in The Geneva Observer: The UN Development Programme (UNDP), in a report published last week, argued for a Temporary Basic Income in order to protect poor and vulnerable people in developing countries from COVID-19. This temporary basic income would supplement people's existing income and guarantee a minimum income above the poverty line, paid for by repurposing billions of dollars worth of debt repayments.

Temporary Basic Income (TBI) | United Nations Development Programme
Unconditional emergency cash transfers can mitigate the worst immediate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on poor and near-poor households that do not currently have access to social assistance or insurance protection. This paper provides estimates for a Temporary Basic Income (TBI), a minimum guarante…

As the report itself states, they are not actually advocating for a Universal Basic Income, but rather an idea that “intersects with existing social assistance and insurance systems, but also with the idea of an entitlement-based Universal Basic Income (UBI) that secures a basic income floor for all people, regardless of means and behavioral testing or work considerations.”
A UBI scheme implies a notional universal (or quasi-universal) right to an income for an undetermined duration, paid unconditionally and individually to all residents.

UNDP’s Temporary Basic Income formula does have some of the features that characterize UBIs. However, the emergency cash assistance is explicitly temporary (up to 9 or 12 months, depending on the length of the crisis) and isn’t universal but targeted at persons living below a “vulnerability-to-poverty threshold.”

What it is, however, is unconditional. That is to say, it doesn’t impose behavioral conditions such as enrolment in certain social programs as is the case with some Conditional Cash Transfer programs, or more classically with job-searching requirements. De-linking social security from job seeking would indeed represent a major step in moving the idea of social security benefits away from systems designed to incite persons to find work.

Stéphane Bussard, of this parish, has an excellent interview (in french/paywall) and write-up of UNDP head Achim Steiner where he addresses a number of these questions.

During the UN’s reform process, Steiner (perceived by many as an ambitious and smooth operator) has positioned UNDP at the center of the UN’s prioritization of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. For him, UNDP’s role is to provide expertise and to give countries options and technical solutions to implement ideas. Established in the mid-60s during the expansion of the UN’s development technical assistance programs, one of its original missions was, in fact, to coordinate between agencies and programs and avoid duplication of work.

In this connection, it’s worth noting that the ILO has been working on social protection and COVID-19 too, and has stated that “social protection systems are an indispensable part of a coordinated policy response to the unfolding crisis.” We noticed the ILO’s flagship social protection floor strategy, in place since 2012 and which aims in part to ensure basic income security guarantees for all residents over the life cycle, is not mentioned in the report (nor any other of its COVID-related documents). The UN’s duplication of work appears safe for now.