13 April 2020, The Tablet

Pope Francis suggests 'universal basic wage'

Pope Francis suggests 'universal basic wage'

Pope Francis prays from the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking an empty St Peter's Square on Easter Sunday.
VATICAN MEDIA /CPP / IPA/IPA MilestoneMedia/PA Images

Pope Francis has suggested that the coronavirus pandemic may be the time to introduce a "universal basic wage" to ensure no worker is left without rights.

"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 ... and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable," he says in a letter addressed to "brothers and sisters of popular movements and organisations".

He calls for a wholesale "conversion" of society.

He says this must be a "humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilisation – so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few – needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself."

His letter came as the idea of a universal basic income is gaining traction. In The Times today, Clare Foges acknowledges it "has momentum" but warns: "We should pay attention, and be wary."

In recent years Pope Francis has had three meetings with the people he wrote to in his letter: two at the Vatican and one in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

He reminisces about the "beautiful projects" that emerged from those meetings.

"In these days of great anxiety and hardship, many have used war-like metaphors to refer to the pandemic we are experiencing," he writes.

"If the struggle against Covid-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalising at a time when no one can save themselves alone."

The people he wrote to, he describes as often "invisible" to the system and helping those on the margins of society.  

"Market solutions do not reach the peripheries, and State protection is hardly visible there. Nor do you have the resources to substitute for its functioning," he says.

Pope Francis acknowledges in the letter how difficult it is to stay at home for those who live in tiny, ramshackle dwellings, or for the homeless.

"How difficult it is for migrants, those who are deprived of freedom, and those in rehabilitation from an addiction."

He praises those who are there shoulder-to-shoulder with them, helping them to make things less difficult, less painful. 

"My hope is that governments understand that technocratic paradigms (whether state-centred or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind.

"Now more than ever, persons, communities and peoples must be put at the centre, united to heal, to care and to share."


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