SANEM finds 70% wage-earners in 4 dists. worse off in a year

The monthly income of wage-earners in four select districts came down around 70 percent in a year (November 2019 to November 2020), according to a SANEM survey unveiled on Tuesday.

South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) and ActionAid Bangladesh jointly conducted the survey titled-“Pandemic and the Youth in Bangladesh: Survey Findings from Four Selected Districts”- Kurigram, Satkhira, Rajshahi and Barguna.

A total of 1541 households were interviewed as part of the survey conducted from December 13 to December 27, 2020.

Mahtab Uddin, Lecturer of Economics department at Dhaka University and Research Economist of SANEM, delivered the keynote presenting the findings of the survey during Tuesday's webinar.

“In order to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the selected areas, households were asked to report changes in their economic activity since the start of the pandemic. 69.76% wage-employed respondents reported that their monthly salary had decreased, 27.98% reported no change in salary while only 2.26% reported an increase in their salary,” Mahtab added.

Mahtab said 4.52% of the surveyed respondents reported that the main earning member had shifted to a different profession either because of a low wage (47.37%), wage cut (18.42%), loss of employment (10.53%) or because they were forced to switch to a different profession (7.89%). For 81.76% of self-employed respondents, profit earnings had declined.

“The most common types of problems faced by self-employed workers included decrease in sales (52.04%), decrease in profits (50%), and decrease in production (34.01%),” the data showed.

He also added that almost one-third of households also claimed that their business had to be closed either permanently or temporarily since March 2020. Several reasons were identified behind the business closures such as the economic lockdown, lack of demand, fall in price, increased cost of production, COVID-19 related additional costs and so on.

“Due to the various internal and external shocks faced by the households during the pandemic such as loss of income of main earner, unusually high prices of necessary goods, floods and erosions, households had to adopt a number of coping strategies.”

The data also showed 39.5% households relied on borrowing, 39.4% households resorted to savings, 21.3% worked extra hours, 12.3% sold their animal stock, 9.9% changed dietary patterns involuntarily and 8.3% relied on unconditional help offered by relatives and friends. Out of the surveyed households, 23.99% in Barguna, 12.57% in Rajshahi, 13.42% in Sakhira and 14.29% in Kurigram were under some form of social protection coverage. An analysis of the current status of the education sector revealed that, among the youth (aged 15 to 35), the highest rate of illiteracy existed in Kurigram (21.04%) while the lowest was in Barguna (0.7%).

Across the four districts, 6.73% of male youth and 8.27% of female youth were illiterate. The primary and lower secondary dropout rates were also highest in Kurigram and lowest in Barguna. Overall, the dropout rates were higher in rural areas (17% and 24.5% in primary and lower secondary levels respectively) compared to urban areas (9% and 17.2% in primary and lower secondary levels respectively).

Since the start of the pandemic, online classes have been most frequent in Rajshahi (37.8%) and least frequent in Kurigram (16%). 13.1% male students and 11.8% female students reported attending online classes frequently while 49.9% male students and 56% female students reported that they had never attended any online class.

The digital devices required to participate in online education was absolutely unavailable for70.35% students in Kurigram, followed by 60.24% in Satkhira, 54.16% in Barguna and 43.87% in Rajshahi. Across all regions, 65.38% females reported that they never had access to digital devices compared to 52.18% males.

The most common sources of healthcare services in the four districts were community clinics (36.5%), local homeopathic/allopathic/ayurvedic doctor (18.02%), general hospital (13.16%), and Government Upazila health complex (11.13%).

63.83% and 44.87% respondents reported that healthcare services for treating mental health disorders and victims of sexual and gender based violence were absent. Overall, only 4.33% households at the urban level and 1.2% of households at the rural level got tested for COVID-19.

Amongst who tested, 26.67% and 20% households had a confirmed COVID case at the rural and urban levels respectively. Majority of households did not face any difficulties in accessing healthcare services during the pandemic while 28.7% faced higher medical costs, 13.5% reported delays in getting medical care, and 12.4% reported unavailability of medicines.

A total of 1270 women belonging to the age group 15-35 were interviewed as part of the survey.

The interviewed women confirmed facing several forms of gender-based violence by their husbands including physical violence, sexual violence, controlling behaviour, economic violence, and emotional violence.

In the past 12 months, 30.54% females were victims of physical violence, 22.99% were victims of sexual violence, 76.53% were victims of controlling behaviour and 35.08% were victims of economic violence while 43.65% faced both physical and sexual violence. The highest proportion of legal actions taken against gender-based violence was in Rajshahi (11.67%), followed by Barguna (9.4%), Satkhira (3.03%) and Kurigram (0.5%). Only 3.1% poor women sought legal actions compared to 6.5% non-poor women.

A higher proportion of women in Kurigram and Rajshahi were engaged in earning activities compared to in Satkhira and Barguna. Around 5.75% women claimed that they were not able to use their own earnings freely and 14.29% claimed that their household head took part of their earnings from them without their consent. Overall, 64.86% women had access to a bank or mobile banking account, 14.39% were able to operate Facebook and YouTube, 39.98% felt safe in public transport, 48.73% felt safe walking alone and 64.86% had knowledge regarding family planning.

In regard to youth civic engagement, the survey revealed that only 7.62% youth from the surveyed regions participated in local decision making. However, this rate was much higher for males compared to females: only 2.59% females participated in local decision making compared to 10.85% males. Similarly, only 1.5% female youth were involved in political activities compared to 5% males. On a positive note, youth engagement in voluntary activities has increased from 5.3% to 6.2% as a result of the pandemic. Furthermore, the study revealed disparities in knowledge about climate change among male and female youth as well as urban-rural regions. Overall, 9.99% youth participated in climate change awareness campaigns but the rate was substantially lower for females.

Lastly, Mahtab Uddin delineated a list of suggestions that have emerged as a result of the survey including: demand and supply side policy intervention to reduce the COVID-19 induced educational disruption; reducing medical costs, ensuring adequate supply of essential medicine and training of medical staff; employment retention programs and access to finance for SMEs; widening social safety net coverage with the addition of new vulnerable population groups; raising awareness among females on the available support institutions and procedures to take legal actions; integrating higher number of females in the formal job network and improve their earning status; gender responsive service delivery to improve female access to banking, ICT etc; increasing civic engagement of youths with particular focus on females; and enhancing youth knowledge of climate change and their engagement with climate justice.

In opening remarks, Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh said the survey will aid in formulating effective policies to facilitate COVID-19 response and recovery process for social sectors such as education, healthcare, gender-based violence at the local level.

Dr Selim Raihan mentioned the key issue that needs to be emphasized is ensuring that the economic recovery is inclusive. “In this regard, small and medium enterprises, youth and women have emerged as the most adversely impacted groups and therefore must receive the highest priority.”

Dr Raihan also claimed that the existing social protection programs are not enough to tackle the new challenges induced by pandemic. Therefore, targeted support programs and ensuring effective implementation of these programs are necessary.

Source: United News of Bangladesh