Income Security: Options and Choices

Income Security: Options and choices

Francine Mestrum

Presented at AEPF 13

21 May 2021 (programme at

  1. Introduction

It is crystal clear during the COVID-19 crisis: people need protection, health care, clean water, decent housing and … income. These services are not available for huge numbers of people all over the world. What happened with the COVID-19 crisis was that all of a sudden their numbers were growing. Too many public services have been privatised in past decades and made unavailable or unaffordable for too many people, no doctors or hospitals, no clean water and soap, no decent housing. In these circumstances, how to protect yourself? How to protect others? Moreover, due to the lockdowns, people lost their jobs, informal and platform workers were unable to earn anything, street vendors went idle … how then to survive? Where, without the crisis, some poor people were always able to earn something with minor jobs and activities, their needs were largely invisible to those who prefer to not know and not see. Or they were blamed for being poor, for not taking all the ‘opportunities’ offered to them.

This is the silver lining of this crisis: no one can pretend anymore to not know and not see. The needs are enormous. People are suffering and all too often, dying, if not from COVID, from hunger. Continue…

Basic income: in favour or against?

A whole series of articles in favour and against a basic income, see:

and as you will see, there are lots of different meanings, and this makes any serious discussion very difficult.

Social Protection and Health Care as a Social Common

COVID-19 reveals the undeniable fact of our interdependence and some hard truths about our economic system. While this is nothing new, it will now be difficult for all those who preferred to ignore some basic facts to go on with business as usual. Our economy collapsed because people cannot buy more than what they actually need. But as the economy grows the more people get sick and need help. And our universal welfare systems never excluded so many people as they do now. The many flaws in the dominant thinking and policymaking do not only refer to our health systems, but are almost all linked to the way the neoliberal globalization is organized. Turn the thinking around, forget the unfettered profit-seeking, start with the real basic needs of people and all the so badly needed approaches logically fall in the basket: the link with social protection, with water, housing and income security, the link with participation and democracy. In this article, I want to sketch the journey from needs to commons, since that is where the road should be leading us to. It goes in the opposite direction of more austerity, more privatization, more fragmentation of our social policies. It also leads to paradigmatic changes, based on old concepts such as solidarity and a new way to define sustainability.

The COVID-19 crisis is revealing in many aspects. All of a sudden, one does not have to convince people anymore of the importance of health care and social protection. Surprising as it may sound, for many governments and for many social movements, social protection has not been one of the priorities in their agenda. Some think the private sector will take care of it, others think they have to respect the international fiscal directives, and still others give priority to environmental policies with maybe some vague demand for basic income.

If this current crisis could re-direct past thinking into a clear demand for health care and social protection, leaving aside universal basic income and privatizations, one would be able to speak of the silver lining of this coronacrisis. However, in order to so, many traps have to be avoided.

In this article I will briefly look at what sideways can better be left behind, what a forward-looking policy can look like and how it can lead to a perspective on social commons and system change. This implies an intersectional approach to health, social protection and several other sectors of social and economic policies. It is the road to the sustainability of life, people, societies and nature.

Red the Article of Francine Mestrum in ‘Development’

The illusions and false promises of the universal basic income

Reacting to Guy Standing’s position on basic income

It is astonishing to see the many arguments, based exclusively on very thin air, always coming back in discusCategorieënsions on a Universal Basic Income (UBI). No, the cost of a UBI is not too high (where are the numbers?), it will give people freedom (three different types of freedom!), we will tax the rich (when? how?) and basic income will even make an end to rentier capitalism (how?). The reasoning starts with the non-evidenced statement that the ‘COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief the irretrievable breakdown of the post-war income distribution system’ (really? how? where? when?).

In this contribution I want to highlight three points, the question of cost, the link between work and income and finally the hidden message of these biased reasonings in favour of basic income.

But let me start by two points progressive advocates and opponents of UBI fully agree on: yes, work has to be re-defined, this is an old social demand of the workers’ movement and more particularly of feminists, so that the now all too often unpaid care work can be integrated into economic thinking. And yes, income security is crucial, it is a source of mental and material wellbeing and should be a priority for all policy-makers. There is not one single argument to state that these two demands can only be met with a universal basic income. On the contrary, a comprehensive universal social protection system, or social commons, can do the job far much better. Continue…

COVID-19: Caring for the Commons

The crisis of the coronavirus was dangerous and it will have a serious aftermath.  But it also has a silver lining, at least for those who are willing to open their eyes. This crisis was indeed a moment of truth.

After years or even decades of neoliberal policies, with deregulations, privatisations, private public partnerships and cuts in social expenditures, almost all national governments were unprepared to tackle the pandemic. Even worse: they had no clue on how to do it.

In many countries of Western Europe, one of the richest parts of the world, there were no masks to protect health workers, there were no ventilators to care for the sick, there was no protective clothing for the doctors, many public hospitals lacked beds in their intensive care units while several private hospitals refused to open their doors.

While clear guidance had been given by the World Health Organisation and several national public health services on how to prepare for and tackle a pandemic – after outbursts of SARS, MERS, Chikungunya…  – Ministers and their staff did not even know about the requirements.

Add to this, in a country like my own, Belgium, health competences are with 7 (seven!) different ministers. If ever evidence of incompetence and ignorance was needed, here it was.

Written by Francine Mestrum for Valdai Club: read more on the site

Health Care and Social Protection: what strategy?

The silver lining in the COVID-19 crisis is, undoubtedly, the many lessons we can learn.

In the past, it was sometimes hard to convince people of the need for social protection. Too often, it is seen as paternalistic, reformist and old-fashioned. Today, people want to be free and decide for themselves. Or, solidarity cannot exist in a capitalist system, so, we first have to get rid of capitalism.

Let me give you this quote of Chris Hani, former chairman of the South-African Communist Party:

Socialism is not about big concepts or heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about health care. It is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about a decent education for all our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the markets. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected, privileged few, the case for socialism will exist.”

I think this is very clear and very true.

From this statement follow two things:

One, it is the political struggle for these social policies that make another world possible. The current COVID-crisis has made it crystal clear how the homeless, the migrants and asylum seekers, the informal workers, all the vulnerable people are the major victims of an illness that can be avoided by the rich and wealthy. The statements of some about health care as an opportunity for wealth creation are a shame. Health care should be available for all and should be affordable. It cannot be a for-profit asset. As Global Social Justice has been saying for years: what we need is free, public and universal health care. At least, if you take human rights seriously. The awareness of the transformative potential of health care is a first step towards a strategy for system change.

Two, one cannot fight for health care without fighting for water, for shelter, for income, for dignity. And one cannot fight for health care without fighting for preventive policies and for a healthy environment. It means we necessarily have to fight against the tyranny of the markets Chris Hani is referring to. Never before has it been so clear that all these different aspects, from health care to housing to the environment and to the financialisation of our lives have to be tackled simultaneously. This is, I think, the second major strategic element that has to be taken into account.

Never before, it seems to me, has it been so clear that politics are about life and death.

Health care and social protection are not only individual concerns, they are a common interest. It does not help to work for a COVID-free France or China or Mexico, if other countries have no resources to fight the virus and have access to vaccines. In the same way, the environment knows no borders. We are so interdependent that it should be clear to all that we are in this together, not in the same boat, certainly not, but in the same storm. We can only survive if we find solutions for the huge inequalities that to-day, make social life so difficult, if not impossible.

Add to this the necessary democratic procedures with a participation of all concerned people, men and women, rich and poor, North and South and East and West. That is why we talk about ‘social commons’, policies and achievements that are in the common interest and come about in a participatory manner.

Our social protection, then, is a very broad concept, it is not a corrective mechanism but a tool for change. It is very different from other advocates of ‘social protection’ who only think of markets and hide behind a discourse on ‘the poor’ they constantly ignore.

This is the strategy we have in mind: an awareness of the transformative potential of social protection, in the sense of Chris Hani, an awareness of the necessary linkages between social, environmental and economic policies. It obviously is incomplete, it is a long-term project that will have to adapt to national and local circumstances. You can call it socialism or you can call it something else. We think it is crucial.