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Living with dignity – at what price?

The unconditional basic income is a payment made to every citizen, irrespective of their financial, family or professional situation, and is sufficient to allow a person to live with dignity.

I have reflected on this topic with a degree of perplexity because the Unconditional Basic Income seems unrealistic to me. Despite this, it is still an interesting starting point for having a look at life in our society.

There is one good aim in the idea of this income, which is that of seeking to enable everyone to lead a dignified life. Socially, it is something that is desirable. But the fact that it is universal within a society causes me to think a little of the ideas we have about the air we breathe. It is the same for everyone and everyone has a right to it. But air doesn’t cost anything, or hardly anything. This income will have a cost, and it’s not a small one. So, let’s do some sums. In my view, the amount of €400 per month would be an appropriate minimum for a dignified life in this country. In that case, for 10 million residents in Portugal, €48 billion per year would be needed. Now, the State budget for 2017 assumes a general tax revenue amounting to approximately €41.42 billion. So, any possibility of the basic income being put into practice is out of the question. Many people might continue to argue, imagining that taxes could be increased or reallocated, but the scale of the situation for a country like ours allows me to go no further.

I will try a different direction. Let us consider the fact that the main aim is to allow everyone to lead a life of dignity and that the Unconditional Basic Income would be an instrument to achieve this. If this is unrealistic, what other measures could be taken? I think that various instruments (political, social, economic) should be used, with clear aims. By way of a caveat, I am not forgetting that all measures and efforts are subject to the errors and weaknesses that are part of the human condition, and are therefore fallible.

One of the key aims in our societies should be to make the level of unemployment as low as possible. The dignity that work provides should not be underestimated. In Portugal, combating unemployment seriously is not a priority, and I believe it should be. In parallel, I believe that people who cannot work, for whatever reason that is beyond their control, either at present or in the medium to long term, should have an income that would allow them to lead a dignified life. On the other hand, the quality of life in a society does not depend on the level of income alone, but also to a large extent on the quality of cooperation between its members, on their capacity for working together in a practical and profitable way. As a priority, I therefore advocate the development of more extensive types of social economy that would enable people’s needs to be provided for in a more community-based way.

In this way, I feel that a dignified life for all would be better assured, and at a much lower cost, by simultaneously combating unemployment head on providing a guaranteed income for all those who remain unemployed and promoting more community-based forms of social life.


About the author

Antonio Veiga: was born and lives in Lisbon; he is 60, an economist and a certified accountant. He is a board member of two associations, one supporting immigrants (Associação Guineense de Solidariedade Social), the other promoting solidarity-based economics (Associação das Comunidades Auto-financiadas – ACAF); he was also a primary school teacher of mathematics and of subjects introducing students to economic activity, and he worked as a specialist contracted by the Coordination Commission of the Lisbon and Vale do Tejo Region.

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