As the pandemic and the eventual lockdowns wreaked havoc on the economy and livelihoods, around 23 crore Indians have been pushed into poverty during the past year, showed a report by Azim Premji University. It said that the rural poverty rate increased by 15 percentage points and the urban poverty rate was up nearly 20 points.

“The number of individuals who lie below the national minimum wage threshold (Rs 375 per day as recommended by the Anoop Satpathy committee) increased by 230 million during the pandemic,” said the report titled ‘State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19’.

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It noted that though incomes fell across the board, the pandemic has taken a far heavier toll on poorer households. In April and May, the poorest 20 percent of households lost their entire income. In contrast, the richer households suffered losses of less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic incomes. Over the entire eight-month period (March to October), an average household in the bottom 10 percent lost Rs 15,700, or just over two months’ income.

Further, as per the report, about 1.5 crore workers remained out of work by the end of 2020. About 10 crore people lost jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown.
“Most were back at work by June 2020, but even by the end of 2020, about 15 million workers remained out of work,” it said.

Incomes also remained depressed. The average monthly household income per capita in October 2020 (Rs 4,979) was still below its level in January 2020 (Rs 5,989). Job losses were higher for states with a higher average Covid caseload. Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi, contributed disproportionately to job losses.

Incomes remained depressed. Pixabay

During the lockdown and in the months after, 61 percent of working men remained employed and 7 percent lost employment and did not return to work. For women, only 19 percent remained employed and 47 percent suffered a permanent job loss during the lockdown, not returning to work even by the end of 2020.

The report showed that younger workers were much more impacted, experiencing higher job losses, of a more permanent nature. Around 33 percent of workers in the 15-24 years age group failed to recover employment even by December 2020. This number was only 6 percent in the 25-44 years group.

Vice-Chancellor of Azim Premji University, Anurag Behar said: “The pandemic has revealed a systemic and moral failure that makes the most vulnerable always pay the greatest price for everything. We have to change this from the core.”

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The report shows that the pandemic has further increased informality and led to a severe decline in earnings for the majority of workers resulting in a sudden increase in poverty. Women and younger workers have been disproportionately affected. Households have coped by reducing food intake, borrowing, and selling assets. Government relief has helped avoid the most severe forms of distress, but the reach of support measures is incomplete, leaving out some of the most vulnerable workers and households.

The lead author of the report, Amit Basole, said: “Additional government support is urgently needed now for two reasons — compensating for the losses sustained during the first year and anticipating the impact of the second wave. This can include continuing free rations beyond June, additional cash transfers, an expanded MGNREGA, and an urban jobs program.” (IANS/SP)