Covid-19 impact: Mumbai’s poor have got poorer

Published on Jun 20, 2021 12:06 AM IST
A large-scale study in Mumbai’s M East Ward — one of the poorest in the financial capital — has found that the average income of its residents has decreased by as much as 47% due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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ByJyoti Shelar, Mumbai

A large-scale study in Mumbai’s M East Ward — one of the poorest in the financial capital — has found that the average income of its residents has decreased by as much as 47% due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The preliminary findings from the surveyed areas including Mankhurd, Govandi, Shivaji Nagar, Cheetah Camp, Trombay and Deonar, also revealed that unemployment increased from 7% to 12% and self-employed people like vendors, drivers, shop owners, and daily-wage earners were the hardest hit. At least 12.5% have not been able to find work even after economic activities resumed after the unlockdown last year.

The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) surveyed 26,000 households in 26 bastis of M East ward, covering a total of 97,414 men, women and children to study the impact of the pandemic on health, education, livelihood, housing and education in what it refers to as the Community-Led Action Learning and Partnership (CLAP) project.

TISS partnered with Tata Trusts and the Asian Development Bank to conduct the survey and the findings will be released in the first week of July.

The findings from the livelihood part of the study, a copy of which Hindustan Times has seen, are in line with recent unemployment trends in the rest of the country: the national unemployment rate had reached a record high of 23.52% in April 2020 during the national lockdown. It improved to 6.52% in January 2021, in line with an economic recovery. But the second wave delivered another hit to the jobs market in April and May. The two months saw about 23 million job losses—both salaried and non-salaried, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data revealed. To put things in perspective, a 7.97% unemployment rate in April erased some 7.35 million jobs, including 3.4 million salaried jobs.

In M East ward, where many who work in the informal sector reside, the average monthly income is 12,050, which is 1,400 less than the minimum wage (as set under the minimum wages act) in the city.

“The impact of the loss of income was grave, with many people struggling to pay rents or buy basic medications for pre-existing ailments such as hypertension,” said Shubham Kothari, program manager for the CLAP project. “A lot of people we surveyed could not even afford to pay for the community toilets.”

The survey was carried out between November 26, 2020, and January 14, 2021, through a detailed questionnaire on a mobile app.

“The M East is structurally vulnerable ward and has been neglected for long,” said Amita Bhide, professor and dean, School of Habitat Studies at TISS. “The pandemic and the lockdown unravelled worst of its issues, and it prompted us to conduct this detailed survey.”

“The pandemic has been a prolonged disaster for the communities in M East,” she said.

“Our findings show that the pandemic resulted in nearly 30% increase in healthcare expenses,” said Avinash Madhale, programme coordinator of CLAP. “Many people were unwilling to seek medical help for their ailments, while some borrowed money for treatments. There is also a section of people who have suffered from adverse impacts due to delaying medical help or not seeking medical help at all,” he said, citing a case of a domestic worker from the ward who died because she could not afford to buy high blood pressure medication.

The survey also aims at compiling a detailed database of people in the ward, mainly the most vulnerable ones. Such data can be helpful to implement aid-related projects and other programmes in a better way.

For instance, the database of people from the survey came in handy for the Covid-19 vaccination drive. “We were able to give basti-wise lists to the civic authorities, our volunteers helped in transporting people to the centers and we even helped fighting vaccine hesitancy by recording video testimonies of people who have taken the vaccine,” said Madhale.

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