Basic income with a feminist heart: how to make it stop being a utopia in Colombia?
By: Dejusticia | April 30, 2022
Although Colombia boasts of being a member of the OECD, it is still a profoundly poor and unequal country. While nearly three quarters of our population is in or at risk of poverty, the richest 10% have 42.4% of all income and the poorest 40% only 10%. This scenario has differentiated impacts that hit vulnerable groups, such as poor women , even harder . Just to show some data, in 2020 the highest unemployment rate in recent years was recorded: for women it increased from 13.6 to 20.7%, while for men the change was from 8.2 to 12.8 %.
With these trends, the feminization of poverty becomes a tangible fact. Not only because for every 100 men in poverty there are 104 women in the same situation, but also because the causes and effects of this problem are different when it comes to them, especially the most vulnerable and those with the lowest income.
For example, in 2019 participation in the labor market was not only much lower in women with lower incomes (37.6%) than in women with higher incomes (63.6%), but the gap between men and women in terms of participation in the labor market was much larger in lower-income households (23.3 percentage points) than in higher-income households (13.7 percentage points) . The same can be observed with unemployment. Women with fewer resources in 2019 had a much higher unemployment rate (27.8%) than women with more resources (4.5%), but also the gap between men and women in terms of unemployment was much greater in households of lower income (12.1 percentage points) than in higher income households, where this gap is almost non-existent.
This intersectionality can also be clearly seen in the impacts of the pandemic. The emergency hit the poor much harder, particularly poor women. For example, unemployment increased much more for women from lower-income households (increased by 21.09 percentage points) than for women from higher-income households (increased by only 1.88 percentage points).
In the midst of this context, the concepts and visions of feminism inspire the construction of social policies that put the inequalities suffered by women at the center of the discussion, as well as the need to guide any intervention under the imperatives of care and support of life. From that shore, at Dejusticia we explore a path that, although it may be thought of as utopian, is possible: that of basic income.
The path of basic income
In a new book from the Human Rights for Socioeconomic Equality collection , lawyers Nina Chaparro and María Ximena Dávila and economists Diana León and Alejandro Rodríguez address the debate on the need for a basic income in Colombia. That is to say, that the population of the poorest and/or most vulnerable sectors, or a segment of it, have a periodic and non-conditional monetary transfer to face poverty and inequality.
According to the document ‘Feminist basic income: from utopia to urgent need’ , a basic income would help to reduce inequality in economies. And it is that according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in countries such as Mexico or South Africa, an annual income per person of 25% of the average income can mean a reduction of more than 10 percentage points on the incidence of poverty and 5 GINI points . Although the fiscal costs may represent between 2 and 3 percentage points of GDP, they are still less than those needed by developed countries to implement a basic income of the same size.
However, the basic income could also generate a greater balance in the relationship between employee and employer, as well as freedom for workers, often immersed in unworthy working conditions, to seek better options away from labor exploitation.
However, the authors and the author went further and incorporated a feminist perspective to the basic income scheme. Why? As explained in the document, “from the struggle for freedom in reproduction and sexuality, the claim for a life free of violence or the criticism of the sharp and unfair division between the “productive” world and the domestic world, feminism it brings with it one of the most comprehensive and multifaceted agendas for changing society and the State.”
Feminisms to combat inequality
In this sense, the authors say, when feminisms feed the idea of a basic income, they call for this scheme to go beyond a symbolic stipend and, on the contrary, be sufficient, worthy and not be reduced to moments of crisis; It invites it to be sensitive to the sexual division of labor and to avoid approaches that only consider women when they are mothers or caregivers. So powerful are these approaches that “a basic income with a feminist heart went from being a utopian proclamation, a niche discussion, to becoming one of the most recurrent cries to alleviate the inequalities accentuated by the pandemic crisis.”
In fact, from the feminist movements it is believed that a feminist basic income should not be focused only on women, but should include all citizens who can benefit from a periodic minimum income, although, if implemented properly, it can have unique impacts on their lives. For example, it can help the poorest women to gain a minimum level of dignity, to reduce dependence on their partners, relatives or employers and to make decisions about what they consider important for their development and well-being.
But the feminist perspective also opens one’s eyes to the limitations of a social policy like this, and that is that it cannot act alone, but needs to articulate with others to have a transformative potential; it requires a tremendous tax effort from governments to be able to materialize, and it must function as a “redistributive program” to achieve an emancipating effect.
Two possible proposals
To mitigate poverty and inequality, and at the same time achieve effective social inclusion, public policies are needed that jointly include a socioeconomic approach and a gender approach. That is why, beyond analyzing the contributions of feminism to a basic income scheme, the authors and the author of this document constructed two possible feminist basic income proposals in Colombia:
In the first, the amount to be drawn corresponds to 10% of the current legal monthly minimum wage (SMMLV) of 2021, that is, 90,853 COP (23.66 USD) drawn monthly to each of the beneficiaries. Although this amount is not enough for any person in the country to purchase a basic food basket, it is almost twice the average income received by each person in the lowest income decile.
In the second proposal, the amount transferred corresponds to the average line of extreme poverty. That is, a monthly transfer of 145,004 COP (38.39 USD). Unlike the previous proposal, this amount is above the cost of a basic food basket for 55.06% of the population. Although this amount is still low, especially for people with higher incomes, it can be a significant sum of money for people without a job, very poor households and with high economic dependency.
With the implementation of the first proposal, more than 4.4 million people would be lifted out of poverty, and with the last one, more than 7.5 million would do so. In these scenarios, Colombia would reach a monetary poverty rate of 33.8% or 27.38%, and a reduction of 5.2 (proposal one) and 7.9 (proposal two) GINI points.
How to make it possible?
The authors and the author mention some essential attributes for any of the two proposals to work. The first thing is that the costs of a basic income require a great fiscal effort on the part of the national government, even more so considering that Colombia has a very weak tax collection. For this reason, a progressive tax reform is necessary to increase the tax pressure in the long term and to increase the rates of taxation of income tax on individuals, particularly those belonging to the richest 1% of the country, as well as other type of reforms such as the re-adoption of a progressive tax on wealth, better taxes on land, among others.
The other thing is that the two basic income options cannot eliminate the infrastructure and social services that already exist in Colombia. Rather it should be a policy that is part of a broader wellness ecosystem. The proposals should also not be focused on criteria other than income, which would mean that any citizen or resident with formal immigration status could be a beneficiary. It should be a basic income with a long-term perspective, that does not run out in the containment of a crisis, and its transfers would be calculated at the individual level, not by households, which prevents its transformative potential from being diluted among several family members, at the same time that recognizes the humanity and uniqueness of each individual.
Although no country has adopted a basic income across the board and as a permanent social policy, there is evidence from some cases of temporary pilot projects or programs at the subnational level in Finland, Mongolia and Iran that give hope about the impacts of this policy. Colombia is still far from achieving a program of this type, but having it as a goal is very important. In order to comply with it, we will need a lot of political will to increase collection significantly and to see in a policy like this a way to improve the conditions of women in terms of poverty, participation in the labor market, leisure time, autonomy and greater power within households.