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UN report urges multi-sectoral approach to address the Covid-19 socio-economic crisis

UN report urges multi-sectoral approach to address the Covid-19 socio-economic crisis
A woman washes clothes on the doorstep of her home in the shack settlement in Masiphumelele, Cape Town. (Photo: EPA / Nic Bothma)

A recently released Covid-19 socio-economic impact assessment report challenges South Africa to become a more inclusive society.

The opening remarks at a webinar to unpack the UNDP Covid-19 socio-economic impact assessment report were made by Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident co-ordinator in South Africa. Also in attendance were government officials, civil society, academics and media members.

Bekele-Thomas stressed that the crisis was not only about health, but was also an economic, security, humanitarian and human rights crisis. The report comes just after the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Professor Philip Alston’s The Parlous State of Poverty report, which emphasised that extreme poverty must be treated as a human rights violation.

The UNDP report shows that South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) has decreased dramatically following lockdown, and that as expected, there was a drop in the buying of non-essential goods and services. The sectors most affected by the crisis were textiles, education, catering and accommodation (including tourism), alcoholic beverages, tobacco, glass products, and footwear.

There has been a marked increase in people falling from one poverty level to a lower one as people were not able to work and bring in income – 54% of households that were pushed from having formal to informal employment fell into this category.

The report highlighted the marked effect of the death of income earners in households, and showed that it could take up to five years for the economy to recover to pre-Covid-19 rates.

It is clear from the report that support needs to be made available to a “vulnerable middle class” to stop it from slipping into poverty. This also means making a determination on the channelling of state resources so that they are skewed towards the most vulnerable and marginalised.

The report raised important questions, such as:

  • How will South Africa rebuild itself in order to empower the youth, women and old people, as well as expanding the number of stakeholders in the economy to promote inclusive growth?
  • What should our future social and governance system look like?

The report aims to promote the use of evidence-based information for policy and recovery. It referenced data generated by the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) on household poverty levels as well as the temporary and long-term poverty levels created by Covid-19.

In attendance at the webinar was Khumbulile Thabethe, a single mother who says her income was badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. She said that before the crisis she used to sell vitamin supplements on Metrorail trains to earn an income. However, after lockdown was instituted, trains were not in operation and she could no longer do this. This affected her ability to go home and she was away from her family for seven weeks.

She has two children, one in matric and one at a tertiary institution, and she is now dependent on the grant she gets for her child in matric to supplement her older one’s transportation costs.

(Earlier in the week, Maverick Citizen covered a discussion that highlighted the plight of people like Khumbulile, in informal employment, who were now forced to rely on child grants to supplement their household income.)

Key findings from the UNDP report were:

  • Female-headed households are more likely to slip into poverty than male-headed households;
  • Education levels also determined the likelihood of poverty, with households that have higher education levels less likely to go into poverty;
  • Employment was critical to empowering households to get out of poverty;
  • Black African households with many dependents had a greater likelihood of being poor; and
  • “The current stimulus package may not be sufficient given that households are still going to lose at least 40% of their income even if they qualify for the special Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS). Based on data from households that experienced at least a 10% reduction in income alone before the pandemic, the results show that their odds of falling into poverty is 1.5.”

The report recommended a multi-sectoral approach to address the Covid-19 socio-economic crisis, particularly from a policy perspective. It suggested that there need to be greater social protections for the most vulnerable, reskilling programmes for those with lower education and limited skill sets, and the protection of jobs in times of crisis.

The report underlined the need for the support of health workers:

“It is critical that measures are taken for medical workers in public hospitals and for doctors and nurses to feel more protected. This can be promoted through ensuring a safer environment, equipment and more staff.” DM/MC


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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