The failure of guaranteed income as a symptom

2 min
Poverty increases in Barcelona / PERE TORDERA

BarcelonaThe Catalan Auditor has published a devastating report about the failure in the management of guaranteed minimum income, a scheme approved four years ago which was held up as a breakthrough in the fight against poverty. Instead, the report points out that it has only reached a fraction of the population that entitled to it. "It can be concluded that the law of guaranteed income has been insufficient to ensure a decent life for people who were in poverty," the Auditor concludes. The number of incompatibilities that were included meant that of the 90,000 applications submitted in 2018, 60,000 were rejected outright. But of the 30,000 that were initially approved, only 13,500 received any aid. The rest were left for the following year.

This is one of the most serious problems detected by the Auditor: the administration's inability to meet deadlines and respond to citizens. One out of every four GCR requests was processed too slowly, outside the deadlines set by the law itself. State and non-contributory pension supplements took even longer: more than 88% arrived late. The result is that, although 25% of Catalonia's population was at risk of exclusion in 2018, these benefits only reached 1% of the population. What was supposed to be a great leap forward in the welfare state came to nothing. And all because of a too cumbersome legislation and an inefficient and not very agile administration.

The report studies a period prior to the pandemic, but it is precisely during these last two years, when it has been necessary to hand out aid to different economic sectors affected by the restrictions and closures, that it has become clear that neither the Catalan nor the Spanish administrations are prepared to respond. We saw this with episodes such as the collapse of the Generalitat's website on which the self-employed were to apply for grants , and also in the delays to collect furlough and in the collapse of job centres, where officials had to face the indignation of desperate citizens because the promised money did not reach them.

The content of the report and the experience of the pandemic bring us to a very clear conclusion: there is no point in approving social benefits if the administration is not prepared to deliver it to the people who need it. And in general, the administration needs to be brought up to date. The pandemic has shown that you have to be quick and agile, that the difference between aid arriving on time or not can be the closure of a business or a family's misfortune. Modern democracies must be able to equip themselves with rapid reaction mechanisms in emergency situations, and make the most of the possibilities of digitalisation to be more efficient and surgical. Bureaucratic barriers must be removed and procedures must be streamlined and simplified. We need to serve people fairly, and this means taking into account the digital divide and reinforcing face-to-face attendance. It should be a priority objective for the coming years.