Policies that deliver a Temporary Basic Income (TBI) for the world’s poorest people could help some 3 billion people to stay home, thereby slowing the current surge in COVID-19 transmission in developing nations.
That’s according to a new report released Thursday by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which puts a US$199 billion monthly price tag on measures that would guarantee a basic income for those living at or below the poverty line in 132 developing countries.
“The report concludes that the measure is feasible and urgently needed, with the pandemic now spreading at a rate of more than 1.5 million new cases per week, particularly in developing countries, where seven out of ten workers make a living through informal markets and cannot earn money if they are at home,” the UNDP said.
The agency said it has completed assessments in more than 60 countries in recent months, and found that the hardest-hit are informal workers, low-wage earners, women, young people, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities. Many are not covered by social programs to provide a safety net and cannot protect themselves by staying at home.
A TBI would help them buy food, pay for school and afford other necessities. While it sounds like a lot of money (and it is) a six-month TBI amounts to just 12 percent of the total cost to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, UNDP said. Countries like Togo are already offering some type of cash transfer programs because of the crisis. South Africa has reintroduced a universal basic income plan driven by the pandemic and Kenya has tested the idea.
UNDP says developing and emerging economies will spend $3.1 trillion in debt repayment this year, and allowing countries to temporarily repurpose these funds into emergency measures could fund a TBI.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented social and economic measures. Introducing a Temporary Basic Income for the world’s poorest people has emerged as one option. This might have seemed impossible just a few months ago,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
“Bailouts and recovery plans cannot only focus on big markets and big business. A Temporary Basic Income might enable governments to give people in lockdown a financial lifeline, inject cash back into local economies to help keep small businesses afloat, and slow the devastating spread of COVID-19.”
Image: IOM file