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Universal basic income is set to transform Spain when it’s needed most

The Spanish government is taking action in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Juan Manuel Sánchez Romero / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

A universal basic income is set to debut in Spain, as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on both the national and global economy.

Bloomberg reported Sunday that Nadia Calvino, the economy minister, told broadcaster La Sexta in an interview that some sort of basic income policy would be “in place as soon as possible.” The goal is for the policy to evolve into something “that stays forever, that becomes a structural instrument, a permanent instrument.”

It could become one of the biggest implementations of universal basic income in the world. Trials have taken place in Finland and the Canadian province of Ontario in limited numbers. But the Spanish government, led by the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, appears to be aiming for a more long-term implementation for the country of 47 million.

The proposal has already received a warm reception. Andrew Yang, who ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in this year's election under a pro-UBI banner, declared Tuesday that "the U.S. should follow suit":

Guy Standing, professor at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told El Pais that the pandemic created an urgency to implement a basic income.

"In these countries, which are still in an initial phase of the pandemic, basic income should be applied as quickly as possible," Standing said in comments translated by the Basic Income Earth Network. "You cannot buy soap or have clean water without the money necessary to do so, and it is easier to transfer it directly to the people who organize a complex subsidy scheme."

How will Spain's universal basic income work?

The ideas will be fleshed out by Jose Luis Escriva, the social security minister. The main focus is expected to be on assisting families.

The Local, citing Spanish newspaper El Pais, reports the goal is to offer €440 ($475) per month. The minimum wage in Spain is €950 ($1,032) per month.

Why is Spain introducing a universal basic income?

The coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world this year is uprooting economies around the world. The Hill reports that Spain is the second worst-affected country from the outbreak in Europe and third-worst affected in the world behind Italy and the United States. Spain's total number of cases overtook China in late March. On Monday the country had suffered 13,055 deaths relating to the virus.

The Spanish government implemented a series of lockdown policies on March 14, barring people from leaving the house except in limited circumstances. Three days later the government announced a €200 billion ($217 billion) coronavirus package, which included state-backed credit guarantees for firms.

On March 31 Euractiv reported that the government had introduced further economic policies to mitigate the effects of these bans. This included a ban on evictions for six months, a mortgage moratorium extension and a €440 ($478) per month subsidy for domestic workers forced to stop working.

The Spanish economic situation has worsened. The Independent reported on April 2 that Spain has lost 900,000 jobs since the start of the lockdown, the biggest loss in its history besides the 1930s depression and 2008 crash. The number of registered unemployed people reached 3.5 million in the month of March.

A universal basic income has arisen as a policy proposal in Spain before. The city of A Coruña in 2016 implemented a small-scale basic income that provided between €532 ($578) and €1,064 ($1,156) per month to low-income families. Representatives from Podemos, a party that forms part of the current government coalition, pushed in 2016 for a basic income in the autonomous region of Andalusia.

The Local reports that the idea came back to the forefront after the November 2019 general election, where the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and Podemos agreed to a universal basic income as part of their new coalition deal.

The deal placed no timeframe on its implementation, but it seems the pandemic may have created a level of urgency to it.

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