Three million jobs lost and hunger surging amid Covid-19 crisis — survey

About 3-million South Africans have lost their jobs during the country’s nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. An additional 1.5-million workers have lost their incomes as a result of the lockdown.

This is according to the findings from the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram), released on Wednesday. Researchers surveyed 7 000 South Africans to compile the study, which can be considered the most nationally representative survey that currently exists. 

During the course of 2020 there will be at least four more waves of data collection, following the same 7 000 respondents.

The survey found that already precarious workers — including young people, informal workers and women — were hardest hit by the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to the findings, the rates of net job loss are much higher for manual labourers (-24%) compared to professionals (-5%); for those with verbal contracts (-22%) compared to those with written contracts (-8%); for women (-26%) compared to men (-11%); and for those those with matric or less (-23%) compared to those with a tertiary education (-10%).

This is in line with global trends on employment in the wake of the pandemic.

Studies by the International Labour Organisation show that informal, young and women workers have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown measures around the world. 

The Nids-Cram survey also found that of those workers who remained employed during the lockdown, but who lost their incomes, only 20% of them received support from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) through the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters).

The UIF’s system has been beset with technical glitches and delays. 

Civil society groups — representing farmworkers, domestic workers and precarious industrial workers — asked the government to extend the UIF’s benefit to workers with non-complying employers. Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi amended the Ters directive in May to allow for this, but there is little evidence that these workers were ever able to access the relief.

The UIF’s own data shows that domestic workers are still among those workers who have benefited the least from the scheme.

Income shocks and the breakdowns in social-protection schemes have had consequences for hunger and food insecurity in the country.

The Nids-Cram survey found that 47% of households reported they ran out of money to buy food in April. One in five (22%) respondents said someone in their household went hungry in the last week. Moreover, in households with children, 8% reported frequent child hunger lasting three or more days in the last week.

The Nids-Cram research report on household resource flows and food poverty recommends that social relief be strengthened to tackle the lockdown hunger crisis. 

This includes the UIF: “While the social insurance system may not reach informal workers, where people are due to be paid UIF due to job losses, this system needs to work. The likelihood of hunger is significantly higher in households that report that their main sources of income, such as earnings, have been lost. Urgent attention needs to be given to rectifying technical glitches that exist in the UIF system.”

On Monday, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said a basic income grant could be introduced in the near future.

Zulu said “discussions for the introduction of the basic income grant have been brought back to the table” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The current proposal will help realise the government’s broader social security reform,” she said, adding that the basic income grant will be unconditional.

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