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French left mulls universal basic income ahead of primaries

Pascal Guyot, AFP | Left wing primaries candidate Benoit Hamon is calling for universal basic income for all French citizens over the age of 18.
3 min

The idea of giving French citizens a universal basic income has become a central issue ahead of the left wing primaries to choose a candidate for this year’s presidential election. The primaries take place on January 22 and 29.


Universal basic income would be funded by tax increases, while (in theory) much of the money handed out would be reinjected into the economy, boosting growth and employment opportunities, while lowering poverty and cutting government red tape by replacing complex and diverse unemployment benefits schemes.

‘Erosion of employment’

There are seven candidates for January’s primaries, with polls putting former prime minister Manuel Valls in the lead for the first round.

However, the same polls show that voting intentions are evenly split in the second round between Valls and a handful of leading candidates.

>> Read more on "Who are the candidates in France's left-wing presidential primary?"

One of these front runners, Benoit Hamon is a firm supporter of a universal basic income, of between 750 and 800 euros a month, which would be paid to every single French citizen aged 18 and over, regardless of whether they are employed or not.

Hammon, whom polls give a 50-50 chance against Valls in a second round, sees the universal basic income as an essential measure given the “probable erosion of employment as a result of the digital revolution” which will see ever more automation of jobs.

A ‘decent income’ for the worst off

“I believe in a society that is employed,” centrist Arnaud Montebourg this week. “Work is what dignifies citizenship.”

His view is supported by Christian Paul, a Socialist MP who is not running for president: “Universal basic income would resign us to mass unemployment.”

Manuel Valls said he objected in principle to donating money to everyone from the “factory worker to [billionaire L’Oréal heiress] Liliane Bettencourt”.

Valls, instead, wants to give a “decent income” of around 800 euros to France’s poorest, but is against creating a “society of dependence and laziness”.

Massive cost

Giving each adult French citizen a free handout of 750 euros per month would cost the French state some 450 billion euros a year, or “the equivalent of the entire state budget”, according to Montebourg, who said such a project would be “impossible”.

Hamon believes that the universal basic income could be introduced in stages, starting with young people aged 18-25, “to help them integrate into society and the jobs market, and funded by a wealth tax and an initial state payout of 45 billion euros".

Hammon said a basic unemployment benefits scheme (called RSA), currently at 535 euros a month, should be raised immediately to 600 euros and given to all unemployed, whether they apply for it or not (at the moment, one third of people who are eligible for the RSA do not apply for it).

Finns experiment, Swiss reject

On January 1, 2017, Finland became the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income in an experiment with 2,000 randomly chosen jobseekers.

Each will receive 560 euros every month, with no reporting requirements on how they spend it. The amount will be deducted from any benefits they already receive.

Voters in Switzerland strongly defeated a referendum on whether to introduce the measure in 2016, with 77 percent voting against the proposals.

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