The Spanish Bishops are sabotaging a government plan for a minimum living wage, saying that while it may help to soften the blow of the COVID-19 recession, it will be a harmful measure to take in the long run.
– “Subsidies” for citizens “not a desirable long-term horizon for the common good”
“At this time, a basic income, help to those who have found themselves unemployed, to those who need it through [an] instrument that seems appropriate, is essential”, Spanish Bishops’ Secretary Bishop Luis Argüello explained to journalists in a video press conference April 20.
“[But] thinking about the permanence of large groups of citizens living in a subsidised way, I think that would not be a desirable long-term horizon for the common good”, Argüello continued.
In that way, the auxiliary bishop of Valladolid expressed his sense that extending a basic income guarantee beyond the immediate context of the COVID-19 pandemic could be counterproductive.
“It is very important that people can exercise their abilities with a job”, he insisted.
“The urgent need for a minimum income at this time should not be should be an alibi for a kind of permanent subsidy that takes from people’s horizons the chance to have a job [and] and to develop their skills in relationships with other people”, Argüello said.
– Government to implement “permanent” minimum living wage from May
The question of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) was recently catapulted back into the centre of Church debates after Pope Francis, in an Easter letter to the world’s popular movements, said the coronavirus pandemic “may be the time to consider a universal basic wage” to “ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights”.
After media outlets inside and outside the Church reported that the Pope was calling for a Universal Basic Income, Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, clarified that Francis had in the letter expressed his support not so much for an UBI as for a universal basic wage.
A concept, this last, with “a more precise scope than universal basic income, as it refers only to informal workers”, Czerny said.
But beyond what Pope Francis thinks about the measure, the Spanish government has been preparing to implement a minimum subsistence income as soon as May that it is planning to turn into a stable feature of the country’s social security landscape.
“The minimum living wage will be permanent, as provided for in the coalition agreement”, Spanish Social Security minister José Luis Escrivá recently told Spanish radio, referring to the coalition between the centre-life Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and left-wing Podemos.
– Church opposition to left-wing government
Tensions between Podemos and the Spanish Bishops have been palpable since the party was founded in 2014.
Those frictions are principally due to Podemos’ strict secularisim and its calls for the withdrawal of the economic, fiscal and social privileges that the Church receives in areas such as the state funding of the Bishops’ Conference, tax breaks and the financing of Catholic schools.
The Podemos party’s backing for a progressive social agenda including an UBI, euthanasia and further rights for the LGBTIQ+ community was also at heart of Church warnings last year when the PSOE and Podemos were negotiating to form government.
Cardinal Antonio Cañizares of Valencia, for example, cautioned that a PSOE-Podemos government would sink the country into “a democratic, social, religious crisis about what constitutes Spain in its reality and its very own identity”.