The pandemic has impacted all people’s savings and income earning potential, but the poor have been most affected. Households with children and youth, and people with disabilities, are in the greatest need of social assistance.
Closures and the shift to remote learning have been injurious to students’ learning, mental health, and development. Learning from home has negatively impacted the majority of students. The greatest challenges reported were difficulty in focusing on schoolwork in the absence of a learning-conducive environment at home, and lack of access to internet and electronic device access. The challenges to learning from home were worse for students in poor households. Governments have taken steps to increase access to devices for students, yet gaps remain. Regardless of these efforts, the lack of physical presence in a classroom, and interaction with teachers and fellow students, detracts from engagement and learning.
Dependence on social assistance for feeding the poor has increased while the non-poor appear to be increasingly at risk of becoming more dependent on the state for food assistance. Access to food and consumption during the lockdowns has affected both the poor and non-poor, though it is more severe for the poor and households with children. More female-headed households appear to be receiving food support, which is appropriate considering they are generally worse off than male-headed households.
With decreasing availability of budgets for social assistance, a multi-faceted approach is required which targets those most in need and with the least ability to cope. Accessing hygiene products seemed to be a greater challenge than accessing water services, more so for the poor, yet these are both needs in the context of the pandemic. While care packages were provided in the Jamaican government’s response, this should be provided in all countries.
All households are experiencing decreased income because of the pandemic. Women have experienced increased care burdens which is having a negative impact on their income, at the same time as more women are becoming permanently unemployed than men, exacerbating their existing situation of having lower incomes, precarious work, and higher unemployment. Youth are impacted by the loss of opportunities for quality social connections and practical skill training, which is likely to further limit their access to the job market. With the economic downturn, many youth, both in poor and non-poor households who have recently graduated with secondary and tertiary level qualifications including TVET have joined the ranks of the previously unemployed. This situation will increase the youth unemployment statistics, which in the Caribbean, is generally double the national level.
Most self-employed persons or small business owners surveyed were unregistered, which makes it more difficult, sometimes impossible, for them and their employees to benefit from social assistance programmes, as most have a registration requirement. While some businesses have made adjustments to their operations by working through containment measures such as greater use of phone or internet for ensuring business continuity, more than half have reported making no adjustment. While about half of the business owners prefer cash grants, their urgent business needs included access to loans, rental subsidies, and training for digital marketing. While governments have provided grants in some cases, a majority of small business owners have not applied or received any benefit from government.
The pandemic’s socio-economic impact has been worse on small business owners than on households with salaried workers and to cover living expenses, more business owners had to spend savings, borrow money, and rely on assistance of extended family.
Governments of the countries within this study have responded to the negative impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups with existing and new social protection measures. There is a considerable demand for social assistance to meet basic household needs, with poor households reporting the need twice as much as non-poor households. However, of those reporting a need for social assistance, the majority said they were unable to access available grants for a variety of reasons. Informal workers were most affected by the loss of income and exclusion from social protection, as they received little or no income loss support.
Those most affected by the pandemic are households with children, youth, women and girls, the poor, informal sector workers, and small business owners.
While it might be becoming more difficult for Caribbean governments to support persons experiencing the fallout from the pandemic, given the constricted fiscal space, continued support for vulnerable persons now, and towards building their resilience, must be priorities. The risk of social and economic fallout is too great.