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New UN report calls for temporary basic income to mitigate COVID-19 crisis

The introduction of a temporary basic income (TBI) for vulnerable people in 132 developing countries could curb the surge in COVID-19 cases, according to a report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The paper estimates that a TBI could save lives by enabling about 2.7 billion people living below or just above the poverty line to stay at home.

This is particularly necessary in developing countries where pre-existing conditions make the populations less resilient to shocks, it said.

The UNPD said that this measure is economically feasible — it would require 12% of the total financial response to the pandemic expected in 2020 to fund a six-month minimum allowance. The report estimates that it would cost from $199 billion (€169 billion) per month.

As for the funding, the authors suggest focussing on "repurposing fiscal resources directed to external debt repayment, repurposing energy subsidies, no-harm, and wasteful expenditures during the crisis," among other measures.

In previous assessments, the UNPD pointed out that informal and low-waged workers, women, young people, refugees and migrants, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and older people were hardest hit by the crisis.

Countries take steps to implement TBIs

Togo introduced a monthly allowance to most vulnerable households. The initiative, called "Novissi", was reevaluated last month to only apply to people located in regions where COVID-19-related restrictions still apply.

The program, which totals around 11.4 billion CFA francs (€17.3 billion), helped 567,002 Togolese people so far.

The Spanish government also approved a "minimum vital income" to be given out to 850,000 of the country's most vulnerable families in May. The payment amounts to between a minimum of €462 and a maximum of €1,100 per month.

This "strategy is within reach and can inform a larger conversation about how to address vulnerabilities worldwide through policy action," the report concludes.

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