In the Aftermath of COVID-19 Lockdown

Low-Income and at-risk groups need better protections says WMC

Underserved and low-income communities need better infrastructure to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kshama Ranawana

 

Amongst a set of recommendations released by the Women and Media Collective (WMC) for low-income communities living in Colombo and who were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 related restrictions is a proposal that daily wage earners be supported for a minimum of 6 months (April to September) with a monthly stipend to help re-start their livelihoods without getting into debt.

The Collective also states that any aid from the President’s fund or cabinet approved funding must not be politicised or attributed to any political party or State resources or abused in the run up to the parliamentary elections, but distributed equitably, irrespective of the political leanings of the beneficiaries.

The wide ranging socio-economic recommendations   have also taken into account at-risk groups who live in urban areas or in low-income communities.  The recommendations come following consultations with activists and practitioners who work with the urban poor and at-risk communities; the disabled, the elderly, sex workers and LGBTQ+ communities.

The Collective states that the public health responses to the pandemic and consequences affected these communities differently and unequally.

Targeted livelihood restoration schemes should be introduced to meet the needs of the informal sector workers and the daily wage earners, the Collective points out.

Daily wage earners and at-risk communities were amongst the worst affected during the lockdown.
                            Daily wage earners and at-risk communities were amongst the worst affected during the lockdown.

The Collective recommends that arrangements are made to pay landlords of tenants living in low-income settlements directly so as to not deprive the former of their earnings, while forgiving the rents of the latter for the period of March to August 2020. In the case of those living in UDA high rise buildings, they too should be exempted from paying rent for those six months, and the UDA reimbursed directly.

The Colombo Municipal Council and similar institutions, says the Collective must ensure that low-income communities have better access to water and hand washing facilities.  As well, the Collective recommends that the Municipality set up community based groups that reflect gender, ethnic and religious balance to help in decision making when providing relief at local level.

In the long-term, Colombo’s low income communities must be supported through funding to start self-employment projects with the government creating a market for their products.  The Collective also recommends a review of  social protection mechanisms such as the  Samurdhi programme to ensure that recipient criteria is updated and  monthly payments are adequate and reflect the cost of living.

Housing programmes such as the Urban Regeneration Project   which comprise high-rise complexes must be reviewed, it adds, to be energy friendly, include increased size and washing facilities.  As well, women local councillors and community based women’s groups must be consulted during relief efforts, so that gendered needs are identified and met when aid is distributed to communities, the Collective states.

In terms of providing for vulnerable groups, one of the recommendations is the setting up of government assisted shelters for women and children who are victims of ‘domestic or intimate partner violence, have sustained injuries, have made formal complaints or requested protection or relocation, particularly in the context of a spike in violence during the lockdown.   These shelters can be run by professional CSOs in conjunction with local government authorities.”

who have sustained injuries etc.,  particularly because there has been a spike in cases involving violence.  Police must be directed to ‘respond immediately in situations of domestic violence.

In the case of the elderly and the disabled, the Collective recommends that the allowance they receive be extended from March 2020, so they could attend to their needs without being a burden to their families.  Additionally, the Collective calls for individuals dealing with illnesses that are not easily recognizable, such as psychiatric disabilities, epilepsy etc. to be included amongst those who are afflicted with easily identifiable ailments and are eligible for financial help.

In the case of those over the age of 65, the Collective recommends the introduction of the subsidy scheme for the purchase of prescribed medicines and the implementation of the increase of the monthly allowance under the Elderly Assistance Programme, to Rs. 2500 as stated in SaubhyagyaDekma.

Protections the Collective recommends for the vulnerable include providing ‘at-risk communities with the option of legitimate but safe registration through NGOs or community-based organizations they trust and are authorized to process such registrations so that relief and other assistance can reach these marginalised communities.’  The Collective also wants   ’comprehensive anti-discriminatory guidelines’ that all government officials must adhere to and ensuring confidentiality of all information gathered during registration processes.

The full recommendations can be accessed here:Policy Recommendations for Post COVID-19 Lockdown Relief and Recovery

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