Time for us to work out a universal basic income
A report on inequality has revived India’s debate over an income transfer as a primary safety net for all except opt-outs. If inequality is to be addressed, we need to rethink redistribution
India’s debate on the need and feasibility of a universal basic income (UBI) as an elementary safety net for all our citizens—except opt-outs—got fresh wind last week after the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister released a report on inequality prepared by the Institute for Competitiveness. While its broad focus is on the nature of inequality and poverty in the country, two suggestions made have caught attention. It advocates fallback job options for urban Indians along the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which assures rural residents 100 days of pay-for-work each year for the asking. More significantly, the report also supports a UBI, an idea that is still seen as somewhat radical in policy circles. Little is known of the government’s receptivity to these proposals, but they should both be on the Centre’s agenda for a good reason. Regardless of divisions in opinion over the reality and angularity of a ‘K-shaped’ recovery from covid, or over poverty levels in the country, inequality demands a bold policy response.