Covid-19 has made inequality worse, researchers find

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Unemployed beneficiaries on lines to get their Sassa special Covid-19 social relief grants at Thulamahashe mall.
Unemployed beneficiaries on lines to get their Sassa special Covid-19 social relief grants at Thulamahashe mall.
Oris Mnisi
  • Inequality has deepened during the lockdown, the second National Income Dynamics Study - Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) has found.
  • Women, people in rural areas, the unskilled and the less educated have been hardest hit by job losses.
  • But the new Covid-19 grant had brought millions of people into the grant system, with an estimated 40% of applications being successful.

The Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown have deepened inequality, especially in the job market and education, according to a major survey released on Wednesday.

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An alarming finding of the National Income Dynamics Study - Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) was the job losses may be long-lasting.

The 2.8 million jobs lost after February had not been recovered by June, according to this second NIDS-CRAM survey, based on the responses of 5 700 people.

If these job losses persist, it said, more than a decade's worth of job gains would have been destroyed in six months, GroundUp reported.

"The evidence to date suggests that these losses may be long-lasting," the researchers said. The survey presentation material included a quote from Vladimir Lenin to highlight the devastation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown imposed to limit its spread.

"There are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen," according to Lenin.


NIDS-CRAM researchers found about one million people, who lost their jobs during the pandemic, had fallen into poverty.

"The Covid-19 pandemic is a health crisis that will exacerbate the South African unemployment crisis," they said.

Employers placed 1.4 million people on leave during the lockdown and only 54% of these furloughed workers were re-employed in June, while nearly 40% were left unemployed. The remaining 6% were still on leave in June.

"From February to June 2020, workers who were poor, rural, female, unskilled and less educated have experienced the largest declines in employment," NIDS-CRAM said.

"The percentage decline in employment between February and June was 10 times higher for the poorest 50% of workers compared with the richest 25%," the survey found.

In education, the researchers also found deepening inequality. 

"Wealthy children were twice as likely to attend school despite their grade being 'closed' compared to children in no-fee schools."

Pupils were expected to lose 40% of school days in 2020, raising the question about how they would recover this time - if at all.

"Analysis of the new school calendar shows that for grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10, children will have lost between 82 and 87 schools days or 40% to 43% of typically scheduled school days in a year," the researchers said.

They found the prevalence of depressive symptoms doubled between 2017 and June 2020 from 12% to 24%. Those reporting extreme hunger were twice as likely to show depressive symptoms.

Widening of inequality

Like the first NIDS-CRAM survey, the second found women were hit harder by job losses than men, and wage inequality between men and women in the poorest 40% of the population increased by a factor of up to five between February and June.

"The driving force behind the widening gap is a change in working hours that has been disproportionately borne by women. This may have to do with women being employed in jobs that are less amenable to working from home or disproportionate childcare responsibilities during the lockdown," the researchers said.

Only 24% of workers in June said they could work from home.

A widening of inequality between rural and urban areas was another trend. In urban areas, employers by June had restored jobs, but the rural areas did not experience an employment "bounce-back".

The Covid-19 social relief of distress (SRD) grant of R350 per month had brought millions of new people into the grant system.

The researchers estimated of the 11.3 million people who applied for the grant, nearly 40% were successful.

Women made up 34% of the recipients of the grant, and just 41% of those who received Unemployment Insurance Fund-Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme payouts.

The researchers, who contributed to the survey, came mainly from the University of Stellenbosch, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town and Human Sciences Research Council.

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