In the wake of Coronavirus, many countries have taken great strides in trying to mitigate the adverse effects of the coronavirus. One policy that has been implemented far and wide is the preservation of jobs and other sources of income. For example, as a mitigation measure, Malaysia has formulated plans to protect the livelihoods and welfare of their citizens in the bottom 40% of domestic income. At least three economic stimulus packages have been put in place. The most recent being ‘Prihatin’, and this package focus on supporting citizens who risk falling into poverty. These Malaysians include artists, street vendors, small-entrepreneurs, and other informal labourers who have been seriously impacted by the pandemic and may be at risk of falling into poverty.
While these measures will offer at-risk Malaysians some form of help in dealing with the negative impact of Coronavirus, it will be essential to consider the nation’s overall strategy for the social protection of its citizens during the ongoing pandemic, and the subsequent recovery phase in the long-run. Many people expect this pandemic to bring great changes to the world, referring to it as “the new normal.” Life as most people know it will change. The work environment is also expected to change, but no one knows the precise way yet. All we can do is predict and speculate based on past pandemics like the Spanish Flu.
One great challenge for many nations is to figure out ways that the already existing social protection systems can better shelter the informal sector where most low-income labourers find their incomes. A recent survey in third world countries showed that in the initial phase of most lockdowns, the rate of job loss was predominantly high in the services, self-employed, and agricultural sectors. These are the areas that employ low-income labourers, for whom working from home isn’t an option. Consequently, the other great challenge will be for the social protection offered by governments to reach such people as effectively as possible.
Three aspects are of great significance as governments try to preserve people’s sources of incomes during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) period:
First, protection of low-income citizens through cash transfers is vital. This form of direct income backing offers short-term relief to alleviate acute financial strains and supports medium-term recovery efforts during this economic decline. To effectively protect the low-income families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those working in the informal sector, income protection should be free of coverage by official social insurance Social security organizations. While governments might direct income support specifically to casual workers who have lost livelihoods or jobs during the pandemic, the informality of this sector would make this targeting very challenging. This is because the unofficial nature of the informal sector that lacks proper regulations, makes it hard for governments to find the exact records to facilitate the efficient transfer of income support. This would risk leaving a vast majority unprotected or transfer of help to people who might not be the intended target.
Thus, coming up with stimulus packages that are well thought and universal for the intended target is an important step in the right direction. These packages should progressive and place a greater emphasis on sheltering the bottom 40% in terms of income. Further, the enrolment to these packages should be automatic for all beneficiaries.
Second, additional rounds of stimulus packages may be needed. Some economic stimulus packages assume that this pandemic will be gone within the next few months. Hence most payments are scheduled to end within a scheduled period. However, many foresee the impact of the pandemic on low-income households to go on longer. So far, no real predictions have been offered to show when this pandemic may be eliminated or put under manageable levels.
Third, more actions can be taken to expand the coverage of government-initiated stimulus packages among low-income families. Getting the word out is vital. An effective communication campaign should use conventional methods of broadcast media to boost coverage. Good media deployment is not enough. Communication from those on the ground like local governments, civil societies, and religious groups will also be vital to ensure that those who aren’t digitally literate can become aware of the help available. Communication will also need to concentrate on specific areas and groups with relatively low coverage, thus contributing to a cost-efficient implementation. Communication also needs to be coupled up with a simplified delivery method
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge. The inspiring thing is that most countries are doing the best they can to cushion their citizens against this economic downturn. But as legislators are finding their footing in trying to fight the fire, the pandemic presents a chance for countries to bolster the systems and come out stronger, better protected, and more resilient.