“Universal” income, really?

What fly stung Pope Francis? Would he have turned into Che Guevara in a white cap, become a dangerous revolutionary, as the conservative Catholic circles on the other side of the Atlantic underline it? In a book that has just been published, A time to change (Flammarion), he speaks for a “Universal income”, “An unconditional lump sum payment to all citizens”. It did not take more for social networks and the media to rustle with more or less muffled indignation … Without a doubt, this conviction expressed by Pope Francis will revive the debate in France, in the Catholic world and well. beyond … Already, last week, in these columns, the former member of the PS Benoît Hamon pleaded in this direction, by invoking moreover very opportunely the Pope as first ally. The institution of a universal income is likely to be one of the subjects of the 2022 presidential campaign.

Be careful, though. The idea of ​​a universal income, precisely, is not that “universal”. The problem is that a pope speaks, by definition, on a “universal scale”, which is indeed the dimension of Catholicism. But ask for a “Unconditional lump sum payment” pour tous does not have the same meaning if it is Burundi, Argentina, or a European country like France, which already benefits from some social security coverage. In reality, there is universal income and universal income… One thing is to want to completely transform society, by paying everyone an income, whatever their activity, their wealth. It is therefore an upheaval of the system, where work no longer plays its role of defining social status. Another thing is to ensure that everyone has a minimum income ensuring possible dignity, a guaranteed income, for those who live below the poverty line. In France, charities such as Secours Catholique have been fighting for a long time to replace the RSA (active solidarity income), which is of a very low level and very complex in nature (30% of beneficiaries pass by), by a minimum income equivalent to the poverty line (890 €). This would prevent many people from falling into the “poverty trap”. This guaranteed minimum income would make it possible to reach the objective of dignity invoked by the Pope, and also to enhance the contribution to the common good of these modest households.

But be careful not to focus on this “universal income”. An idea that seems simple risks making us miss the point. All the associations that work in the area of ​​extreme poverty will tell you: the only way to integrate and get out of exclusion is through work. Dignified work, well paid, in humane conditions, as the same Pope Francis says. And not an indemnity, which would even have the opposite effect, as if, basically, these people would not even be good at working, and that paying them an income would allow them to wash their hands of it… has proven by example how giving a job, including a subsidized one, can transform the situation of people in great difficulty in the long term. Let us not hide the fact that today this is the real problem: young people who do not find their place in the job market, too old and unskilled people prematurely sidelined. A much more complex battle than universal income. We must not make a mistake in the debate. It is not universal income, but universal work that should be promoted.


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