The COVID-19 pandemic continues to drag on more than a year since it has been detected. The difference from last year to now is that there is the promise from the vaccines developed, many of which are now being rolled out. Still, many hurdles have gone in the way of widespread vaccination and accessibility, lending to prolonged issues for the global economy and displaced workers. While this drastic shift has led to the sudden rise in certain sectors like digital adoption and logistics, it has also significantly impacted developing countries and lower-income members of these nations. Not only has it shown a light into long-underserved communities, but it has also increased this gap.
Inequality has increased in different categories for those falling below middle-income markets. In order to implement safeguards and provide social protection, we must understand the numbers below.
Barriers to healthcare
A major sector seeing exclusion for the underprivileged is healthcare. This is arguably the most important resource during the time of pandemic, and yet developing countries are still struggling to provide the necessary resources to protect the well-being of many. This has rung true both for regular citizens at risk of contracting the virus as well as the healthcare workers on the frontlines.
In Africa, health workers are dying at alarmingly high rates because they are not getting access to vaccinations despite their constant exposure. As of February 2021, no countries in sub-Saharan Africa have rolled out immunisation procedures. This is a clear red flag for the prioritisation reaching already limited numbers of medical professionals in these nations, particularly as more developed nations resort to hoarding vaccine supplies (Kupferschmidt, 2021).
Accessibility for healthcare has become even more of a problem for marginalised communities in low-income countries, as capacity and resources are not enough to combat the influx of COVID-19 cases on top of other medical operations. Those unable to afford Telehealth options and food will likely face more health concerns in the coming year as financial resources hit dire straits. Some of the highest death tolls seen from COVID-19 have been from developing economies like Brazil, Mexico, and India. Combined, they account for over half a million casualties from the virus (Muhammad, 2021).
Impact on low-income workforce
The workforce has already seen problematic rates of job displacement as a whole, but lower middle-income countries have seen the brunt of it. Workers in informal sectors are not seeing any coverage for unemployment, and 94% of global workers still have workplace closure measures in their country. Working hour losses have been particularly high in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southern Europe, and Southern Asia (United Nations, 2020).
The World Bank notes how this surge in job loss, combined with the sore lack of support for displaced workers, is already translating to negative effects on consumption, health, and mortality. Interventions in public policy and recovery measures for active labour markets will have to be put into place by leaders to combat long-term financial burdens. Bangladesh, for instance, is one of the hardest hit nations in terms of informal worker support, with a decline in remittances throttling the loss of livelihood (World Bank Group, 2020).
Even those who have not been laid off are facing new challenges that prevent them from being able to continue their work. The Philippines has had one of the longest lockdowns during the time of COVID-19, with harsh measures greatly limiting means of accessible transportation. This has become a hurdle for millions of low-wage earners who have had to travel across the metro during the height of the pandemic. These workers do not see any securities to help tide them by while they are blocked from seeking out paying jobs (Gonzales, 2020).
The gender divide
The widening gap between the privileged and the marginalised has also been felt in terms of the underlying gender bias in the global workforce. Employment loss has been noticeably higher for women and roles more traditionally attributed to them as opposed to men. Globally, female workers have seen a 5% loss versus 3.9% for male workers (International Labour Organization, 2021b).
On top of that, the rift trickles over to post-support labour income. Young workers and women are experiencing significantly bigger drops in support than the overall population. This is especially felt in nations like Vietnam, Brazil, and Peru. Although all three are facing noticeable differences based on age and sex, Peru has seen one of the biggest declines with a 57.9% decrease in post-support labour income for women (International Labour Organization, 2021a).
These call for the need for better employment policies in place, which in turn, could also help pad the blow to labour market outcomes in the coming year. Better protective measures for vulnerable individuals in low-income sectors also need to be put into place, as levels of domestic violence have also increased worldwide. The Eastern Mediterranean Region has seen 37% prevalence in female-targeted violence in the past year (World Health Organization, 2021).
Disability during COVID-19
Disabled people are experiencing the pandemic with more urgency, and yet face a lack of resources in terms of intervention, accessibility, and rehabilitation. The lack of social protection systems has become highlighted in the worst waves of the pandemic, as persons with disability saw a lack of healthcare resources and financial support.
Financial barriers have become more prominent in the past year, calling for a need to assess the diverse costs that come par for the course when living with a disability. In the webinar Addressing Disability-related Costs through Social Protection Systems, experts discussed how low-to-middle income countries could apply cash transfers, concessions, and services to answer the growing challenges faced by this community. Mainstream social protection schemes simply do not cut it, and adjustments would be needed to an exponentially increasing demographic (Osakabe, 2021).
The opportunity for the future
As the world aims to recover from the pandemic, much change needs to be applied in both social and economic structures throughout the global landscape. Malnourishment and poverty continue to rise, throttled by the sudden halt in income streams and supply chains. To bridge this divide that has seemingly gone out of control, both the government and private sector need to implement more inclusive recovery plans.
Assistance and equal opportunity will have to become timely interventional measures during the coming years, along with a greater assessment of areas most impacted by the shift in labour markets. In the continued fight against the pandemic, proactive protection will be the only weapon against uncertainty for the marginalised. To share community resources, individuals can do so here on Social Protection.
Gonzales, J. (2020). Daydreaming in Paradise. Retrieved from:
International Labour Organization (2021a). International Labour Organization. Retrieved from: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_767028.pdf
International Labour Organization (2021b). International Labour Organization. Retrieved from: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_767028.pdf
Kupferschmidt, K. (2021). Science Mag. Retrieved from:
Muhammad, J. (2021). National Public Radio. Retrieved from:
Osakabe, P. A. (2021). Social Protection. Retrieved from:
United Nations (2020). Inernational Labour Organization. Retrieved from:
World Bank. (2020). The World Bank. Retrieved from:
World Health Organization (2020). World Health Organization. Retrieved from: