With social distancing and staying at home the most used precautionary measures to face up to the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, millions of families are being threatened with poverty as their sources of income vanish and workplaces close.
Daily workers and the families of those who do not have fixed jobs often suffer the most, including in Egypt.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt has 5.2 million daily workers, representing 20 per cent of the total labour force in the country. Almost all of them do not have social or medical insurance, making them dependent on what they can earn day to day.
The government is working on solutions to support those affected by the crisis, however, and the Social Solidarity Ministry has said it will add 80,000 to 100,000 families to the Takaful and Karama social programmes at a cost of LE800 million.
The Ministry of Manpower has also announced support for casual workers with a onetime LE500 allowance. Over 1.2 million informal workers applied for the grant in less than a week after the government announced the call, according to Minister of Manpower Mohammed Safaan.
Beit Al-Zakat, one of the biggest social solidarity organisations in Egypt and under the direction of Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, is making the monthly allowance it provides for families in need substantially higher over the next two months.
However, NGOs have so far played a more important role in mitigating the effects of staying at home on the families of daily workers.
The Abwab Al-Kheir Foundation, an NGO, has been covering the expenses of 50 families of daily workers in the Al-Ayyat neighbourhood of Cairo and will continue to do so for the next three months. It is currently collecting donations for another 50 families.
“While many of us joke about getting fat because of staying at home in quarantine and during curfew hours, for others staying at home means hunger and suffering,” Haitham Al-Tabie, the founder of Abwab Al-Kheir, told Al-Ahram Weekly
Al-Tabie said the foundation supported each family with LE1,000 a month, “which is approximately the amount of money they would get from working for two weeks,” he added.
The foundation, which has been implementing social-support projects in 19 governorates for over two years, believes that supporting families by paying them almost half their monthly income can help them to maintain a decent standard of living and prevent them from having to “beg on the streets.”
Al-Tabie highlighted the fact that most of the families the Foundation supports rely on daily labourers working in the informal sector of the sector of the economy who “spend what they earn on food”.
“Most of the workers work on construction sites or in factories, earning from LE50 to LE70 per day. But due to the Covid-19 crisis, most factory production lines have stopped, and construction projects have been suspended, so they have ended up jobless,” he said.
However, with the support of social-media platforms, people’s support for those suffering economically from the crisis has been huge. “We received over LE150,000 within only 36 hours of announcing our appeal, and people are still donating. Current conditions have brought people closer, making them feel more for others,” Al-Tabie said.
The leading NGO Resala has also launched an online campaign called “Donate the Good,” challenging celebrities to financially support as many families as they can for a month during the Covid-19 crisis.
The initiative has been widely taken up among public figures, who have appeared in videos stating their willingness to cover the expenses of a number of families whose breadwinners are casual workers that have lost their sources of income due to the coronavirus pandemic and calling on others to do the same.
According to Resala’s Facebook page, the celebrity campaign has managed to fully sponsor the monthly incomes of over 10,000 families.
The Egyptian Food Bank, another NGO, has announced plans to help the families of casual workers with food and asking people for donations as part of the 500,000 food boxes it is planning to distribute to the workers’ families.
Forty-five per cent of Egypt’s underprivileged people consists of casual workers, according to Heba Al-Leithy, a professor at the Faculty of Economic and Political Science at Cairo University.
Al-Leithy, who has made extensive studies on poverty in Egypt, told the Weekly that this percentage was on the rise as thousands of those who has used to have low-ranking jobs in the private sector were now joining the group.
“Most of them are already poor, and now we are facing a real challenge in reaching them and supporting them so that they do not fall beneath the poverty line,” Al-Leithy said.
Having an NGO provide these families with a monthly income is better than a government grant, she added.
“We understand that the government can’t provide more due to the huge financial pressures resulting from the coronavirus, but it can make the NGOs’ jobs easier,” she said, saying that it could shorten the period to connect in-need families with donating bodies through providing lists of families living on the poverty line, for example.
The support of charities and individuals was one way of mitigating the economic effects of the crisis, Al-Leithy said, adding that the different initiatives to help the poor did not only need money, as they were also in need of volunteers to deliver food and money to those in need.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly