COVID Impact Survey: Tracing Bengaluru’s Urban Poor

The Survey, conducted across 33 wards of Bengaluru, reveals how weak our public systems are in reaching the most vulnerable residents of the city. There is an urgent need to revamp Bengaluru’s governance systems.

The Covid Impact Survey was conducted by Azim Premji University, in collaboration with nine Civil Society Organisations (CSO), studying 3,000 households in 92 low-income settlements across 33 wards of Bengaluru in November 2021. 

It was undertaken to estimate the continuing impact of COVID-19 induced lockdowns and economic disruptions of employment and livelihoods, thus revealing how weak our public systems are in reaching the most vulnerable residents of the city. 

The survey also captured information on access to government support as well as coping mechanisms. 

Amit Basole, head of Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, and lead researcher of the survey team, stressed upon the need for a focused and long-term policy response at the Centre and State levels to help households emerge from the crisis.

Hyma Vadlamani, core member of the COVID response team, Azim Premji Foundation, said that the pandemic has shown how invisible the poor in the cities are and how weak the public systems are in reaching the neediest and the most vulnerable. 

Key findings of the survey

  1. Job and income losses persisted well past the 2020 lockdown with daily wage earners, domestic workers and retail sector employees being the worst affected. 41 percent of workers had no work, and another 21 percent had reduced earnings even in Jan/​Feb 2021.
  2. Unemployment was long-term. A significant minority (10 percent men, 15 percent women) were out of work even as late as October 2021 (one-and-a-half years into the pandemic).
  3. Surveyed households faced almost 19 months of job losses and depressed earnings. Monthly earnings, low even before the pandemic (INR 9,400 per month), fell even lower for many months (INR 8,450 per month as of Jan/​Feb 2021). By October 2021, though earnings recovered nominally, inflation led to earnings being below pre-COVID levels. 
  4. Poverty rose further. The percentage of households with earnings less than the Anoop Satpathy Committee recommended National Minimum Wage (INR 119 per person per day) rose to almost 80 percent before falling back to pre-COVID levels (67 percent) by October 2021.
  5. Food insecurity rose sharply. 40 percent of the households reported eating less than they were before the pandemic, even as late as October 2021.
  6. Households coped by borrowing and selling assets. 11 percent resorted to borrowing (mainly from informal sources) to finance daily expenses or to repay old loans. An additional 15 percent of households sold or pawned jewellery to meet expenses. Another 12 percent were unable to borrow despite the pressing need.
  7. The PDS (ration) was the most important safety net. 55 percent of households with Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards reported receiving more than their regular quantity of grains every month since the second lockdown. Another 32 percent got additional grains for at least a few months.
  8. Cash transfers did not reach many people. 78 percent of households did not have a woman-owned Jan Dhan account. Among those who had, 75 percent reported receiving some transfer, and 40 percent reported receiving the full INR 1,500.
  9. Only 3 percent of households reported receiving anything under the cash transfer schemes announced by the Government of Karnataka.
  10. There were some improvements in mid-day meals and ICDS during the pandemic. 38 percent (vs 24 percent in pre-COVID times) households reported getting supplementary nutrition or alternatives from anganwadis/​ICDS during COVID (only for households that had a child under age six or pregnant/​lactating mother).

Going forward, immediate as well as medium- to long-term policy measures are needed to counter these effects and chart the path to inclusive economic recovery.

We hope that the survey findings will help in determining the extent and nature of policy interventions needed, especially at the state level.