Income cuts pose serious threat to lockdown
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Johannesburg - Disruptions in household income from the pandemic and lockdown pose serious risks to individuals and households - and to the effectiveness of the stay-at-home order itself.
“When income flows are severely disrupted, household members may experience a reduction in food, interruptions to management of chronic disease and acute stress, increasing vulnerability to infectious disease,” according to new data insights by Julia de Kadt and Yashena Naidoo of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO).
When households are not able to meet their most basic needs, non-compliance with lockdown restrictions is inevitable, “reducing the effectiveness of the lockdown as a whole. As a recent article puts it, ‘hunger is a force greater than fear’."
“Given the massive and wide-ranging costs of a national lockdown and the fact these costs fall disproportionately on the poorest people, it’s imperative to understand where poverty is increasing and to target interventions appropriately.”
Formal employment provides a measure of protection against short-term income disruption from the pandemic or from the implementation of lockdown measures. But for those reliant on informal income, or without a clear income source, the difficulties are likely to be far more immediate, and given the lockdown, “more extreme”, leaving these households particularly vulnerable, the researchers state.
Data drawn from the GCRO’s Quality of Life survey V illustrates how wards around Hammanskraal, Stinkwater, parts of Mamelodi, Atteridgeville and Ivory Park, Bekkersdal, Sebokeng and Khutsong, have over two-thirds of households receiving no income through formal employment.
“This type of spatial concentration of vulnerability poses additional challenges. In a community where a large proportion of households experience a negative impact shock simultaneously, there’s less scope for support to be found locally. In those areas where many households are covered by social grants, this should provide some - though inadequate - insulation, but the impact is likely to be particularly extreme in areas where grant coverage is less extensive, such as wards around Tembisa, Mamelodi and Khutsong.”
The GCRO’s survey data indicates 51% of households receive income through formal employment, leaving 49% of households entirely dependent on other income streams.
“Of these, only 53% report they receive grants - leaving a full 47% who do not receive this minimal level of social support. Similarly, only 29% of these households are registered on municipal indigency registers.”
Under lockdown, opportunities to earn informal incomes have almost entirely been shut down. “In the current economic environment, it also seems unlikely that flows of income from family or friends can be sustained at typical levels. In the context of widespread and sudden loss of income, it is inevitable many will be unable to make rental payments, impacting those who rely on rental incomes.” Debt levels, too, are high.
The researchers point out that given the disproportionate burden that a lockdown places on households already living in or near poverty, understanding and intervening in areas where income poverty is likely to increase in the short-term is an essential component of a lockdown as part of a public health strategy.
“Without adequate support, the lockdown seems likely to worsen the health and well-being of many. And if hunger forces substantial numbers of people to ignore the lockdown, this will also render the lockdown ineffective against Covid-19 itself.”
Recommendations, alongside protecting employment and business, include universal income grants, extending the provision of key basic services and providing support for those whose caregiving roles expand with schools closed, and many other services reduced.