Pandemic slices off 75 per cent of income of the ultra poor

TR Vivek Chennai | Updated on May 19, 2021

Weekly income drops to ₹180 from ₹769 in second wave of Covid


In a sign of the battering Covid-19’s second wave has delivered on the marginalised sections of the rural economy, the weekly income of “ultra poor” households has dropped 75 per cent to ₹180 from ₹769, according to a recent survey.

The/Nudge Foundation, a Bengaluru-based NGO, surveyed 1,200 “ultra poor” families in Jharkhand and UP in the wake of the pandemic’s second wave. Of the nearly 350 million people below the poverty line, about 70 million are estimated to be “ultra poor” whose families survive on less than ₹100 a day. These are pockets where the various government schemes barely reach.

“These are families that are under distress all the time. More than three-fourths of their income comes from wage labour, they own less than half-an-acre of unproductive land, if at all, and are mostly illiterate and therefore vulnerable to exploitation, and no microfinance organisation will lend to them. They earn today to survive tomorrow. We found ultra poverty increase by at least 10 per cent in every village we work in,” said John Paul, Director, rural development, The/Nudge foundation.

Rural jobs

The benefit from schemes such as the MGNREGA too seem to have disappeared in the second wave. Only 13 per cent reported finding any work through the programme. The average net savings of such families has dropped to ₹1,400. “The men, mostly migrant labourers, work in other States or find employment in brick kilns earning ₹120 to cart a load of 1,000 bricks. But those opportunities too have dried up,” said Paul. As a result, hunger and malnutrition have risen making them even more vulnerable to the pandemic. Only 32 per cent of the women said they had eaten any green vegetable in the past two weeks.

Nearly two in three women surveyed reported suffering from fever, cough or cold but only 20 per cent of them have ever undergone a Covid-19 test. While 85 per cent were aware of the Covid-19 vaccine, only 40 per cent were willing to take it.

A report titled ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’ released by Azim Premji Foundation earlier this month said that nearly 230 million people dropped below the poverty line in a year since Covid-19 struck.

“We have been working with such groups for more than two years trying to pull them out of abject poverty by offering them livelihood grants instead of loans and helping them start micro-businesses or get into small animal husbandry. But with the economic havoc wrecked by Covid-19 and economic activity stalling, increasing the grants to such communities appears the only viable option,” added Paul.

Published on May 18, 2021

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