Pope Francis calls for universal basic income

  • April 17, 2020

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis has joined a growing movement that believes the COVID-19 crisis should become a catalyst to consider a universal basic wage to guarantee everyone a minimum income.

Writing to social movements, including organized groups of casual labourers, Pope Francis said people should have the minimum they need to live and support their families.

“Street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers: you who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady income to get you through this hard time,” Pope Francis wrote in an Easter message.

The letter, dated April 12, was sent to organizations that have participated in the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which the Pope has hosted twice at the Vatican and attended in Bolivia in 2015.

“The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard,” the Pope wrote. “Many of you live from day to day, without any type of legal guarantee to protect you.”

Government-ordered lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus have meant that many casual labourers have no work and, therefore, no income.

“This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out,” the Pope said. “It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.”

Canadian basic income advocates applauded the Pope’s letter.

“His support is very politically meaningful and helpful,” said Ontario Basic Income Network spokesperson Barbara Boraks.

“Political leaders need to be reminded that policies which build healthy societies and economies are always based on principles of respect, dignity and compassion. OBIN welcomes the support of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Ottawa’s evolving emergency aid program known as CERB (for Canada Emergency Response Benefit) has come to resemble something very close to a universal basic income. It has economists across the country debating whether or not it should continue past the COVID crisis.

Calling the pandemic a “time of danger,” Pope Francis said he hoped it would serve to “free us from operating on automatic pilot (and) shake our sleepy consciences” in order to spark a conversion that “puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre.”

(With files from Michael Swan)

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