India’s Policy Response to COVID-19 and the Gendered Impact on Urban Informal Workers in Delhi NCR: Thematic Brief 2: Policy Responses and Impact on Economic Well-Being
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The pandemic-induced lockdown had a severe impact on the employment rate in the country, with most studies indicating that urban women being the worst affected. A report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) noted that while urban women were the most affected during the 1st wave, accounting for 39% of the total job loss, the impact on employment was more on urban men in the 2nd wave. Though the focus on social security measures for ensuring the economic well-being of migrant workers was more during the 1st wave, as per the KIIs, several experts alluded that the monetary needs were much higher in the 2nd wave. However, much of the government’s as well as CSOs’ resources were allocated towards addressing the immediate health concerns due to the high numbers of infection, especially in Delhi NCR. Since the onset of the pandemic, the household bank deposits to GDP ratio have been declining while the debt to GDP ratio has been increasing, confirming a deep financial impact of the pandemic. Different studies have also commented on the low savings and financial insecurity among informal workers having led to accrued indebtedness during this period. For casual workers requiring ICU hospitalization, the annual wage fell short for 90% of workers and for hospital isolation, the costs were unaffordable for 48% of workers. Among self-employed workers, about 66% and 27% workers’ annual wages could not meet ICU hospitalization and home isolation respectively. Multiple factors added to the economic vulnerability of urban informal workers since the onset of the pandemic leading to food insecurity, poor access to safe living and healthcare. Due to this broad ranging impact, access to liquid cash was the need of the hour for millions of urban informal workers. This section, therefore, squarely focusses on economic well being in terms of access to cash either through employment or as welfare transfers from the government.