New sur­vey re­veals fi­nan­cial and life­style im­pact of COVID-19 on Gig work­ers

Business Day (Nigeria) - - BD TECH - JUMOKE AKIYODE LAWANSON

The COVID-19 pan­demic has re­vealed the strug­gles and lapses in sec­tors of dif­fer­ent economies glob­ally. Ear­lier in the year, it seemed like the most im­pacted where sec­tors like health, ed­u­ca­tion, sports and en­ter­tain­ment. When coun­tries started to en­force the lock­down/work from home pol­icy, it was widely be­lieved and prac­ti­cal that e-com­merce and work­ers on dig­i­tal plat­forms would thrive with very lit­tle or no fi­nan­cial strain. How­ever, a new re­port pub­lished by Flour­ish shows that Gig work­ers in­clud­ing those who use dig­i­tal plat­forms such as e-hail­ing or de­liv­ery apps have been greatly af­fected by the pan­demic.

The re­cent re­port pub­lished by Flour­ish, a mis­sion-ori­ented global ven­ture cap­i­tal firm with port­fo­lio in­vest­ments through­out Africa, tracks the ex­pe­ri­ence of Gig work­ers in the South African edi­tion of ‘The Dig­i­tal Hus­tle: Gig worker fi­nan­cial lives un­der pres­sure.’

Sur­vey­ing more than 600 South African gig work­ers, Flour­ish found that 76 per­cent ex­pe­ri­enced a large de­crease in in­come since March 2020. The re­port also sum­marises how gig work­ers are cop­ing with eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion.

The sur­vey re­vealed that ap­prox­i­mately four out of five work­ers now earn less than $240 USD per month, com­pared to 16 per­cent more be­fore the COVID-19 lock­down and 91 per­cent are very con­cerned about COVID-19, specif­i­cally, how gig work­ers be­lieve it will af­fect their abil­ity to earn an in­come (46 per­cent) and the risk to their fam­ily’s health (26 per­cent).

Also, it was clear that some gig work­ers are im­pacted more than oth­ers. E-hail­ing driv­ers were twice as likely as de­liv­ery work­ers to re­port a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in qual­ity of life, with 83 per­cent suf­fer­ing a large de­crease in in­come.

Cop­ing strate­gies among South African gig work­ers vary, as some have a fi­nan­cial cush­ion, but a ma­jor­ity live on the edge like most around other parts of Africa, in­clud­ing Nige­ria. If they lost their main source of in­come, 58 per­cent of re­spon­dents re­ported they could not cover house­hold ex­penses for a month with­out bor­row­ing. Most have made sac­ri­fices to cope with the pan­demic and ac­com­pa­ny­ing eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion. Over half of gig work­ers have al­ready re­duced their house­hold ex­penses, al­most half bor­rowed money, and nearly three out of four had to rely on sav­ings. Yet, only one in five are seek­ing ad­di­tional in­come – a low fig­ure pos­si­bly driven by the strictly en­forced COVID-19 lock­down.

As part of the sur­vey ques­tion­naire, gig work­ers were asked to share anony­mous com­ments to de­scribe how they are far­ing in the cur­rent con­di­tions. “Peo­ple are not buy­ing as they used to do,” said a de­liv­ery driver. “The num­ber of de­liv­er­ies has dra­mat­i­cally dropped. It is a big chal­lenge now.” An e-hail­ing driver said, “We are eat­ing two meals a day. That is what we can af­ford now.”

Fu­ture Plans

In the next six months, nearly all re­spon­dents plan to restart or con­tinue the work they were do­ing be­fore the lock­down. The ma­jor­ity are con­cerned about the abil­ity to earn an in­come, find work, cover day-to­day work ex­penses. For four out of five peo­ple, health risk as­so­ci­ated with re­turn­ing to work was not a top con­cern.

De­spite re­cent hard­ships, Flour­ish ex­pects con­tin­ued growth in on­line plat­forms and fi­nan­cial tools to sup­port gig work­ers. In ad­di­tion to these find­ings, the South African edi­tion of The Dig­i­tal Hus­tle: Gig Worker Fi­nan­cial Lives Un­der Pres­sure pro­vides early in­sights into how plat­forms and fi­nan­cial ser­vices providers can best serve this emerg­ing dig­i­tal work­force.

“Dig­i­tal plat­forms have made it pos­si­ble for work­ers around the world to par­tic­i­pate in the gig econ­omy, pro­vid­ing a de­gree of for­mal­ity and sta­bil­ity to their work,” Ar­juna Costa, man­ag­ing part­ner at Flour­ish said. “When the coro­n­avirus out­break caused the global econ­omy to come to a halt in the first quar­ter of this year, work­ers were se­verely im­pacted. By track­ing gig worker ex­pe­ri­ences in South Africa, and else­where, we hope to open con­ver­sa­tions about how fin­tech com­pa­nies can build last­ing so­lu­tions for this vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion of cit­i­zens,” he said.

The South African sur­vey is part of a big­ger study in May track­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of gig work­ers across the globe. The firm re­leased the Brazil edi­tion in June 2020 and is cur­rently field­ing sur­veys in In­dia, In­done­sia, and the U.S. With each of its coun­try-spe­cific stud­ies, Flour­ish aims to help fin­tech en­trepreneur­s con­nect with the peo­ple most in need of aid and bet­ter un­der­stand their needs.

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