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32.4m new poor after 18 months of pandemic

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 5 November, 2021 12:00 AM
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32.4m new poor after 18 months of pandemic

The number of “new poor” again rose to 32.4 million in August this year after the second lockdown dented economic recovery from the first lockdown of 2020, shows a new survey. 

In June 2020, the number of new poor was estimated at 21.24 per cent which declined to 14.75 per cent in March 2021 and has now again soared to 19.54 per cent in August 2021, according to the 4th round of the livelihood survey released on Thursday. 

The survey is a joint initiative of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC).

“Not only has recovery been fragile, but the second lockdown in April 2021 has underscored the continuing threat and reality of disruptions in the recovery process due to new waves of COVID-19 infection and how meaningfully they are managed,” said PPRC Chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman. 

Some 35 per cent of pre-Covid-19 vulnerable non-poor have slipped below the poverty line while 56 per cent have become churning or occasional poor with urban slum people being more victims of the impacts.

Income shock of the covid-19 crisis has not been transitory as the average income of the surveyed poor was still 23 percent below the pre-COVID-level after 18 months of the crisis.

The daily income fell from Tk 114 in February 2020 to Tk 88 in August 2021 after the second lockdown relaxation although it surged to Tk 105 in March 2021 from June 2020’s Tk 65. The average fall in daily income between March and August was 16 per cent.

The fourth round of the survey was conducted in August on 4,872 households in rural areas and urban slums. The previous three rounds were conducted in April and June 2020 and March 2021.

Percentage of households who were skipping a meal the previous day jumped from 2 per cent in March 2021 to 7 per cent in August 2021.

Unemployment recovery too was reversed rising 3 percentage points to 14 per cent in August 2021 from the level in March 2021. Some 10 per cent of those who were employed before the pandemic was still not engaged in any income-generating activities.

18 per cent of the 28 per cent who left their urban world involuntarily during the 18 months of the COVID crisis returned to the cities but 10 per cent did not or could not.

More than two-thirds, mostly poorer people with lower education levels, said that they could not find enough work. 45 per cent of households received some relief during the first lockdown, the rate was only 23 per cent this time. Income and employment uncertainties over 18 months gave rise to several vulnerabilities. Many have switched occupations, often finding whatever they could for survival, creating a risk of shifting to worse jobs.

For example, 17 per cent of skilled workers, e.g., electricians, had to take on jobs as unskilled workers, e.g., day labourers.

Outstanding debt has been increasing consistently over the pandemic, from 13 per cent of average yearly household income just before the pandemic in February 2020 to 28 per cent in August 2021.

The majority of the households are not consuming any meat, milk, or fruit, and per capita, food expenditure is still much below the pre-Covid-19 level; for vulnerable populations, especially children, this can have grave long-term consequences.

Most likely to avoid the high living cost in cities, 10 per cent of slum dwellers moved back to villages or cheaper cities and have not come back. All these factors can have a long-term impact on the livelihoods of the affected families.

“We need to unpack recovery and resilience. We find that the mechanisms of recovery and resilience adopted by many, especially the new poor are what we call ‘distressed’ and has the risk of deepening long term poverty and vulnerabilities. We need to pay urgent attention to these regressive reversals,” said BIGD boss Dr Imran Matin.

The threat of new infection waves remains real. Without an integrated approach combining health, administrative and economic policies, recovery disruptions cannot be minimized, according to Dr Zillur.

He continued Covid-19 response fundamentally is also a question of social justice. “We cannot simply leave the less well-off groups to fend for themselves with the token or no policy support.”

Scaled-up urban social protection, budgetary action plan for CSME recovery, macro policy steps to address rising cost burdens of healthcare, education, transport and utilities, and ramping up vaccination and awareness are immediate priorities, the former adviser to a caretaker government said.