As the world grapples with the COVID-19, the pandemic has drastically exacerbated the urgent need to address the social, economic and environmental inequalities that prevail within countries and between different regions of the planet. 

The SDG Lab is offering policymakers a high-level discussion platform to unpack how COVID-19 is impacting progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and what actors are doing to address immediate needs of their citizens while keeping the 2030 SDG horizon in clear view.

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This brief examines the response measures some countries have introduced, including removing financial barriers to quality health care, enhancing income security, reaching out to workers in the informal economy, protecting incomes and jobs, and improving the delivery of social protection, employment and other interventions.

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In response to the pandemic, sub-Saharan African countries have instituted new programmes or adjusted the existing schemes. They are featured in this compilation. They have paid attention to initiatives directed at persons working in the informal economy; vulnerable groups; and women who are disproportionally affected by the crisis due to their care responsibilities and are overrepresented in informal employment. International, non-African measures are mentioned because of their relevance to sub-Saharan Africa context and/or innovative nature.

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Impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on employment: (potential) solutions for informal/ self-employed workers

In the face of such an unprecedented situation in recent history, the creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale. No country will be able to exit this crisis alone. This report is a call to action, for the immediate health response required to suppress transmission of the virus to end the pandemic; and to tackle the many social and economic dimensions of this crisis.

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In this episode, we invited Christina Behrendt. Christina, head of the Social Policy Unit at the ILO, to talk about the relations between the Future of Work and the challenges to extend social protection to the so-called “missing middle”, the informal economy workers. We discussed how policies to provide social protection to informal workers can help the debate around forms of work associated to the so-called gig economy, and whether universal basic income might offer an alternative to this configuration of work.

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The main objective of this guidebook is to provide policymakers, workers’ and employers’ organizations and other stakeholders with a practical tool to help them in developing viable policy options to address the many challenges of extending social protection to workers in the informal economy and facilitating transitions to formality. It aims to address and remove the barriers that prevent workers in some forms of employment from being protected and also to encourage transitions from the informal to the formal economy.

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We conduct a comparative analysis of unemployment insurance (UI) schemes in advanced and emerging economies. We find that almost all countries complement UI with severance payments, although emerging (advanced) economies rely relatively more on severance payments (UI). As a result, UI coverage rates are substantially higher in advanced than emerging economies. We also find that most countries finance their UI collectively (i.e. by workers, employers and the government), but contribution rates are higher in advanced than emerging economies.

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There has been increasing recognition of the growth of informal employment in the global South and North. Most informal work is precarious and low paid, with workers having little or no access to social protection. It is sometimes suggested that an approach that moves away from productivism – the idea of work as a pathway to access social protection – and towards a universal human rights‐based approach is important. However, this article argues that a large and growing informal economy does not provide justification for abandoning certain key productivist ideas.

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Two billion workers — representing 61.2 per cent of the world’s employed population — are in informal employment. The third edition of this work provides, for the first time, comparable estimates on the size of the informal economy and a statistical profile of informality in all its diversity at the global and regional levels. A common set of criteria to measure informal work has been applied to more than 100 countries, both developed and developing.

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