UNDP Calls For A Temporary Basic Income


This article is a modified version of our newsletter briefing sent out on Thursday July 30, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content a day early and straight in your inbox.


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July 30, 2020




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 countriesfrom COVID-19. This temporary basic income would supplement existing income or through lump sum transfers to guarantee a minimum income above the poverty line, paid for by repurposing billions of dollars worth of debt repayments.




UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner at the UN Social Goods Summit 2018 © UNDP/Dylan Lowthian

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 behavioural 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 behavioural 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.


What it is, however, is unconditional. That is to say, it doesn’t impose behavioural 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. be aware that more help might be available to them.

Stéphane Bussard, of this parish, hasan 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 to the centre of the UN’s prioritisation 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 programmes, one of its original missions was in fact to coordinate between agencies and programmes 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.