Much of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been in the urban settings
Experts recently said that the emergence of "new poor" during the Covid-19 pandemic must be addressed with innovative policy to help give them back their pre-pandemic livelihoods.
Speakers at a regional policy webinar titled "Covid-19 Crisis and Social Protection Challenges: Urban and the New Poor" organized by Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) on 24 June identified this as a common policy challenge, both regionally and globally.
During the webinar they also said that much of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been in the urban settings.
Historically, urban share of social assistance has been distinctly lower with the rural-urban gap on average in South Asia being 9.8%, but in Bangladesh it is 15%.
The Covid-19 impact has catapulted the need for urban social protection into the spotlight.
A PPRC-BIGD study identified four urban vulnerabilities: earnings uncertainty of informal occupations, rising non-food expenditure burdens (98% rise between March 2020 and March 2021), eroded financial coping capacity (debt as % of annual income doubled from 13% to 26% over 1 year), and the unaddressed “new poor”.
Asif Saleh, executive director of Brac, pointed out that the new poor are not a homogeneous category, thus a "one size fits all" approach will not work.
He described Brac’s response focusing on specific categories of new poor such as returnee migrants, displaced urban families forced to relocate to other urban or rural areas without any livelihood strategy.
Usha Mishra, chief of social policy at Unicef, noted Nepal’s response and pointed to some innovations such as subsidies on electricity consumption of distressed urban families and push for a universal child grant.
Qazi Azmat Isa, CEO of Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, highlighted his country's success of quick roll-out of Covid response social assistance program due to their prior investment in updating data-bases and using innovative new digitally verifiable eligibility criteria such as phone usage time.
The "Ehsaas" program was re-purposed with additional components to cover the new poor.
Member of the Planning Commission Shamsul Alam stressed that no amount of planning could have anticipated the massive disruptive impact of Covid-19 crisis. It was important to adopt a learning approach.
He hailed the rethinking on urban social protection and opined the importance of engaging established and credible NGOs in the official response to the urban social protection agenda.
PPRC chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman pointed out that the evidence on Covid-19 impact called for major rethinking on poverty alleviation approaches building on existing achievements.
Summarizing the discussion, he identified three new priorities – urban social protection, addressing the ‘new poor’ and a new policy look at the informal economy, he added.
He noted that 55% of Bangladesh GDP comes from the service sector and much of this sector is constituted of various informal enterprises and activities. Yet policy attention has systematically been more on the “big players” and less on the millions of ‘small players’ of the ‘meso-economy.’