No, Spain is not about to introduce a basic income

The Spanish government is “soon” to implement a “basic income,” at least so it has been reported by a number of media outlets. Unfortunately, terms like “now” and “soon” can have a great deal of cultural variability, as anyone who has travelled in Latin America will be aware.

The reports were misleading on two fronts.

Is Spain really introducing a universal basic income?

First of all, the Sunday announcement from Nadia Calviño, Minister for the Economy, did say the government hoped to introduce the measure “as soon as possible,” but wouldn’t commit to any firmer timeline than doing so before the next election. Assuming the current minority government remains stable (a big “if” in Spain), that would be four years away.

Secondly, it seems likely the policy will be tied to certain means tested and family living situation-related conditions. This means it won’t satisfy the Anglophone definition of a basic income, which assumes unconditional cash transfers to all citizens.

Returning to Minister Calviño’s statement, a literal translation is that the government “is coordinating how to prepare this vital minimum income measure, how it will complement existing measures, and what is the target population.” Moreover, she noted, the goal at present is to put in place “a commencement, a pilot, of what we want to put in place more generally and permanently.”

A working-class and migrant neighbourhood in inner-city Madrid

One thing that is true is that the country has recaptured the attention of progressives worldwide, with the swearing in a coalition of new left and centre-left parties in January 2020. Spain’s Vice-President is Pablo Iglesias, the leader of a political movement that claims, contestedly, to have grown out of protests that inspired Occupy Wall Street.

With this political orientation, and being one of the countries worst hit by coronavirus, it will be surprising if some sort of government cash payment is not implemented at some stage. If well implemented in a timely manner, this could prove a model for other countries to emulate.