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Pandemic Effects Urban Poor Also

Lacking policy support of the kind provided in the West during its urbanization, slum residents’ lives in India have been full of precariousness and volatility. They have disposable livelihoods, as they typically make a living when well-off city residents need their services. But at times when richer city residents cut back on expenses—limiting Uber and auto-rickshaw rides, eating out less often, avoiding malls, etc—and when they furlough their maids and chauffeurs, as they did during the country’s lockdown, slum dwellers’ incomes fall steeply.The pandemic pushed many slum families into persistent poverty. As recently as mid- to late-September, residents from 35 out of 40 settlements continued to cut back on food or other essentials, while residents from 30 settlements needed to borrow money to meet essential needs. In addition, it is necessary to raise slum residents’ prospects for good jobs and upward mobility. The West had an advantage in this regard. When cities there grew most rapidly, assembly-line manufacturing was on the rise; as the unionized urban labour force grew, the supply of good jobs increased. The conditions of employment must progressively be made more secure , with workplace protection, old-age support, and health care benefits. Similarly, the process of slum notification needs to be expedited, so the threat of demolition passes, even if individual titles are not given immediately. These measures will help anchor a more solid and stable lower-middle class, rather than leaving people teetering precariously. Second, interventions are required in education and skills training, and to make entrepreneurship more rewarding. Such efforts are being made on a small scale by social mobility promoting organizations, including Prerana in Bengaluru, Udaan Foundation in Mumbai, and CSRL in various cities. Third, since stories of the worst-off in slums almost invariably involve families ruined by high medical expenses, affordable and reliable health care is necessary, which the government seems to be pursuing, albeit haltingly, through Ayushman Bharat. Harlan Downs-Tepper and Sujeet Kumar contributed to the article.

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