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UN official says providing income to vulnerable people amidst COVID-19 is vital

Immediate introduction of a temporary basic income for the world’s poorest people is of vital importance while the COVID-19 pandemic is still trampling upon the world, a UN official has said.

“The UN policy proposal is of great significance for countries seriously affected by the epidemic to safeguard their political stability and development achievements, reduce inequalities and the surge in COVID-19 cases,” United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Bureau of Policy and Programme Support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Haoliang Xu told Xinhua while commenting on the report “Temporary Basic Income: Protecting Poor and Vulnerable People in Developing Countries” released Thursday by the UNDP.

The report proposes that monthly temporary basic income totaling 199 billion U.S. dollars should be paid to guarantee the basic livelihoods of 2.7 billion people living below or just above the poverty line in 132 developing countries as the pandemic continues to ravage the world.

Xu said that the severity of the pandemic is totally unexpected, with the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide having topped 16 million and the number of newly confirmed cases increasing at a rate of more than 1.5 million per week.

There is no obvious sign of a slowdown, he said. “In addition, some countries have witnessed a second wave of the epidemic, so it is not realistic to achieve a large-scale economic reopening in the short foreseeable future.”

 “In order to keep the economic momentum going and prevent instability in some countries as a result of the sharp increase in poverty, leaders must demonstrate great political wisdom, tap financial potential, secure basic livelihoods, so as to lay a good foundation for future economic recovery,” Xu said.

Xu noted that it is possible for most developing countries to provide the poorest people with a temporary basic income during the epidemic as they have ample room for fiscal maneuver.

 The World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Monetary Fund on March 25 jointly called on the Group of Twenty (G20) to offer debt relief for the poorest countries in order to help them tackle challenges posed by COVID-19.

 The coronavirus outbreak is “likely to have severe economic and social consequences” for the poorest countries, the two multilateral lenders said in a statement, issued to the G20.

The WBG on March 19 announced that its emergency operations to fight COVID-19 had reached 100 developing countries, home to 70 percent of the world’s population.

On April 15, G20 finance officials agreed on a coordinated approach to suspending debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries starting on May 1 until the end of the year.

 Xu said that the 132 developing countries could write off debts totaling 3.1 trillion dollars due to the measures as mentioned above. He suggested that relevant countries turn the unpaid debts into the temporary basic income for the poorest people.

 According to Xu, providing a temporary basic income for the poorest people during the pandemic has actually been working well in many countries.

Spain’s “Basic Income” scheme is expected to cover approximately 2.5 million people, who will receive between 462 and 1,015 euros (between 540 and 1,187 dollars) per month per household depending on the number of household members, he said.

In Togo, the practice has reached 12 percent of the population in two months, using digital registration and digital payment system.

In Brazil, the scheme has already covered 50 million people and in Indonesia, more than 10 million people are benefiting from the UN-proposed initiative, he added. 

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