Mixed fortunes for vulnerable families caught up in COVID-19

09:00 | 28/10/2020
For freelance workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, especially those from ethnic minorities and other migrant workers, the government’s social security package has helped them overcome difficult times. However many others have yet to be supported so that they, in turn, can help their families.
1515 p24 mixed fortunes for vulnerable families caught up in covid 19
Amid the pandemic, families have been applying for government support to see them through the difficult months

Thang is the breadwinner in a Dao family belonging to a poor commune in Phong Tho district of Lai Chau province. All activities in his family have depended on making at least VND4 million ($175) per month from selling potatoes and bananas.

When COVID-19 suddenly changed lives all over the globe at the start of the year, the stalled trade and social distancing measures caused demand for bananas and potatoes to drop dramatically. Thang looked for other work but struggled to do so, and so his family’s livelihood became more precarious than ever.

During the most difficult time, Thang’s family was given VND4.7 million ($200) by the local government in the second quarter, extracted from the VND62 trillion ($2.7 billion) support package under Resolution No.42/NQ-CP and Decision No.15/2020/QD-TTg.

The money was not much, but helped Thang’s family buy food and maintain their lives until he could find temporary employment at the end of May.

Thang’s family is not the only case of course. Poor households in the same commune as well as thousands in many other ethnic minority communities in Vietnam also received timely support. However, behind those stories lay many others in which needy individuals and families reached out for support that could not be accessed.

Nguyen Van Quan, 20 years old, was raised by a father suffering from a neurological disease. His mother is in poor health and has been bedridden for many years. Living as a San Chay ethnic minority in Phu Luong district of Thai Nguyen province, Quan was employed as a construction worker to earn money to take care of his parents.

Previously Quan’s income of VND200,000 ($8.70) per day was enough to cover all household expenses. But the pandemic caused Quan to lose his job and with no other income source, he had to borrow money to cover living expenses.

When attempting to access the support package for workers losing their jobs due to COVID-19, Quan said that his family was not eligible, so he did not receive support.

In the same situation is self-employed Do Thi Hong, who has been staying in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district for over 30 years. With no stable job and no home, Hong meets the conditions required by the social security package. However, despite applying three times, Hong still has not received any money.

“I live with my mother who is old and weak, so she couldn’t go to work. There are times when we do not have rice to eat, and I only dare to buy VND5,000 (20 US cents) of noodles to eat every day,” Hong said. “Whenever rice was being distributed to the poor, I would go there to beg. Thanks to the help of many donors, my mother and daughter can hold out for now.”

Social security for all

Hong and Quan are just two out of 50 people who shared their stories in a survey conducted by the Tien Phong Network, under the support of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment to discover the reality of implementing such a wide-ranging aid package.

The results showed that, apart from households that have received the support, the implementation of the package has faced major challenges with many households not being able to access it or even know about it, making their lives overly strenuous and vicious and suffering from a cycle of poverty, debt and low resilience.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA), although it was deployed from the beginning of May, the support package had only disbursed around VND12.6 trillion ($547.8 million), equivalent to around 12 per cent, by the end of September.

In addition to those who have contributed to the revolution, social protection beneficiaries, and poor and near-poor households, just over 402,000 workers have received support, accounting for only 5 per cent of the total amount. In which, there were a little over 355,000 informal workers, accounting for about 0.02 per cent of such workers receiving support.

“The process of reviewing and unifying recipients of support is also very difficult. Although the time an employee was supposed receive support was from April to June, by September many people in some localities had not received this money,” said Nguyen Hoai Duc, a representative of the MoLISA.

The devastating losses in working hours caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought a massive drop in labour income for workers around the world, the International Labour Organization said in its latest assessment of the effects of the pandemic on the world of work.

Global labour income is estimated to have declined by 10.7 per cent, or $3.5 trillion, in the first three quarters of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. This figure excludes income support provided through government measures.

Leaving no-one behind

In Vietnam, the pandemic has seriously affected the employment and income of more than 30 million workers.

The average income of informal workers is often much lower than that of formal ones, and they do not have social insurance, receive unemployment benefits, have few new job opportunities, and take on very challenging work.

According to data from the General Statistics Office, the average monthly income of informal workers in the second quarter of 2020 was VND5.1 million ($220), 1.6 times lower than the average monthly incomes of official employees. In particular, in the context of the pandemic, the average monthly income of informal workers decreased more than that of formal workers, down 8.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively, over the previous year.

Vietnam is widely acknowledged to have one of the world’s most successful responses to COVID-19. Including public health and communication measures, the country issued policies to limit increases in poverty and inequality, a plan on providing financial relief of $2.6 billion for 20 million vulnerable people, and paying workers whose contracts were suspended a monthly allowance of VND 1.8 million ($80).

Vietnam has meanwhile been improving on its Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index within ASEAN, coming second within the bloc and ranking 77th out of 158 countries this year, according to Oxfam. Although ranking better than many countries in the region and further afield in a number of sectors, including in social security, Vietnam is also being recommended to speed up the implementation process and simplify procedures for implementing the related support package.

Nguyen Thu Giang, deputy director of Light Institute for Public Health Development - a non-governmental organisation operating for non-profit and humanitarian purposes, said that when she contacted many migrant workers and ethnic minorities belonging to the self-employed group, she was saddened to hear that they would rather focus on working and earning money than following the procedures of receiving support. For them, Giang often encouraged them to keep persevering and never give up.

“No-one knows whether the pandemic will ever end and if there will be other pandemics after this. Therefore, this is not only a story about support packages but also a story about policy, representative organisations, and the voices of the beneficiaries,” said Giang. “We are campaigning to incorporate the interests of disadvantaged groups into regular government regulations with the aim of addressing the overall wellbeing problem, so that nobody will starve be found abandoned at any given moment.”

By Hoang Oanh

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