Updated: March 30, 2022 7:44:02 am
According to the Azim Premji University’s (APU) Covid impact survey released Tuesday, job and income losses persisted well past the 2020 lockdown. The survey showed as much as 41 per cent of workers had no work and another 21 per cent had reduced earnings even in January and February 2021, seven months after the first lockdown was lifted. The findings add that the daily wage earners, domestic workers and retail sector employees were the worst affected.
The APU, in collaboration with nine Civil Society Organisations (CSO), conducted a survey of 2,841 households which included 10,267 individuals in 92 low-income settlements across 33 wards of Bengaluru. The survey, conducted in November 2021, was done to estimate the continuing impact of the Covid-19 induced lockdowns and economic disruptions of employment and livelihoods.
The survey also captured information on access to government support as well as coping mechanisms. Workers of a wide range of occupations such as drivers (cab, auto, and others), daily-wage earners (construction and others), domestic workers and factory workers (garment and others) were surveyed.
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Amit Basole, head of Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, and lead researcher of the survey team, pointed out that the ill-effects of the pandemic on livelihoods persisted well beyond the lockdowns, particularly among the vulnerable sections of society. “There is a need for a focused and long-term policy response at the Centre and state level to help households emerge from the crisis,” he said.
Hyma Vadlamani, a core member of the Covid response team, Azim Premji Foundation, said that the pandemic has shown how invisible the poor in the cities are and how weak the public systems are in reaching the neediest and the most vulnerable. There is an urgent need to use the understanding developed from this survey and revamp the city governance systems to address the inequities more systemically.
“Unemployment was long-term. A significant minority (10 per cent men, 15 per cent women) were out of work even as late as October 2021 (one-and-a-half years into the pandemic). Earnings losses were also long-term. Monthly earnings, which were low even before the pandemic (Rs 9,400 per month), fell even lower for many months (Rs 8,450 per month as of January/February 2021). By October 2021, earnings had recovered in nominal terms but adjusted for inflation, they continued to be below pre-Covid levels. This means that the surveyed households have endured almost 19 months of job losses and depressed earnings. Poverty was already high and rose even further. The percentage of households with earnings less than the Anoop Satpathy Committee recommended National Minimum Wage (Rs 119 per person per day) rose to almost 80 per cent before falling back to pre-Covid levels (67 per cent) by October 2021,” the key findings from the study read.
The report added, “Forty per cent of the households reported eating less than they were before the pandemic, even as late as October 2021. Households coped by borrowing and selling assets. Eleven per cent had to resort to borrowing (mainly from informal sources) to finance daily expenses or to repay old loans. An additional 15 per cent of households had sold or pawned jewellery to meet expenses. Another12 per cent were unable to borrow despite the pressing need.”
It further said, “The PDS (ration) was the most important safety net. Fifty-five per cent of households with Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards reported receiving more than their regular quantity of grains every month since the second lockdown. Another 32 per cent got additional grains for at least a few months.”
The findings also said that cash transfers did not reach as many people. “Seventy-eight per cent of households did not have a woman-owned Jan Dhan account. Among those who had an account, 75 per cent reported receiving some transfer, and 40 per cent reported receiving the full amount of Rs 1,500,” the survey report said.
“Without greater support, factors such as the long period of depressed earnings, lower food intake and debt/sale of assets will continue to hamper the ability of households to recover from the pandemic. Relief measures have had a mixed record of reaching the urban poor. While PDS had the widest reach, cash transfers reached few people and fell well short of what is needed. Going forward, immediate as well as medium to long-term policy measures are needed to counter these effects and chart the path to inclusive economic recovery. In addition to continued extra rations from the PDS (recently extended for another six months), more cash transfers, as well as the implementation of an urban employment guarantee programme, are urgently needed. We hope that the survey findings will help in determining the extent and nature of policy interventions needed, especially at the state level,” the report stated.
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