Spain struggles to put in place basic income scheme

MADRID (AFP) – Three months after Spain rushed to launch a minimum basic income scheme to fight a spike in poverty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the programme is at a dead-end because of an avalanche of applications.

The measure was a pledge made by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s leftwing coalition government, which took office in January, bringing together his Socialist party with far-left Podemos as the junior partner.

The scheme – approved in late May – aims to guarantee an income of EUR462 (USD546) per month for an adult living alone, while for families, there would be an additional EUR139 per person, whether adult or child, up to a monthly maximum of EUR1,015 per home. It is expected to cost state coffers EUR3billion (USD3.5 billion) a year.

The government decided to bring forward the launch of the programme because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Spain hard and devastated its economy, causing queues at food banks to swell.

Of the 750,000 applications which were filed since June 15 when the government started accepting requests, 143,000 – or 19 per cent – have been analysed and 80,000 were approved, according to a social security statement issued on August 20.

People queue for supplies from a food bank in Madrid on May 16, 2020. In late May, Spain rushed to launch a minimum basic income scheme due to the pandemic which has hit the country hard and devastated the economy. PHOTO: AFP

But Spain main civil servant’s union, CSIF, paints a darker picture. “Nearly 99 per cent of requests have not been processed,” a union spokesman, Jose Manuel Molina, told AFP.

The social security ministry has only really analysed 6,000 applications while 74,000 households that already receive financial aid were awarded the basic income automatically, he added.

For hundreds of thousands of other households, the wait is stressful. A spokeswoman for the ministry acknowledged that the rhythm “was perhaps a bit slower than expected” but she said the government was working to “automate many procedures” so processing times should become faster from now on.

“The launch of a benefit is always difficult … and this situation is not an exception,” she added.

But Molina said this was a new situation, that was made worse by years of budget cuts to the public service which has lost 25 per cent of its staff over the past decade.

“The problem is that they rushed everything, did it without training and a huge lack of staff,” he added. The social security branch charged with the basic income scheme has only 1,500 civil servants, who also process most pension applications, Molina said.