“How can we stay at home without food? We cannot live in the house. You will die in the house” — says Ann Gakenia Muthungu, a 69 year old single mother and grandmother, taking care of seven children in an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.
While the effects of the new coronavirus COVID-19 are felt by both rich and poor, the availability of resources and mechanisms to cope are distributed highly unequally. This will deepen existing inequalities if left unchecked.
An essential way of ensuring that economic shocks or health crises do not turn into human tragedies is social protection. Coronavirus has shown us that the majority of humanity are at risk; that most people are just a paycheck away from destitution.
In previous crises social protection acted as a powerful stabilizer for individuals, households, and entire economies. Social protection also contributes to keeping inequality in check during crises, when it protects the incomes, health and livelihoods of those that would otherwise be forced into poverty, would need to sell assets, become heavily indebted or engage in dangerous work to survive.
Most of us lack social protection
Tragically, even before the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, four billion people did not have any formal social protection. In many contexts informal mutual aid mechanisms provide an essential lifeline, when everything else fails.
The current pandemic shock, however, affects entire communities, which limits the impacts of community coping mechanisms, making a formal social protection response ever more necessary.
Oxfam calls for a massive expansion of benefits in cash and kind to millions of people currently without or with too little social protection.
In government responses to Coronavirus we are seeing some countries taking big steps. Nevertheless far more still could…