COVID response: Social protection

 

Economies in this region were caught unprepared to COVID-19 pandemic. The measures introduced to contain the spread of pandemic have had massive socio-economic impact and further deepened the pre-existing inequalities.

Almost half of all employees in Europe and Central Asia work in at-risk sectors. This includes areas like arts, recreation, accommodation and food services, real estate, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and vehicle repair.

Informality in the region also remains of great concern, leaving almost one third of the active labour force at risk with limited protection or access to Government-supported measures in the immediate downturn.

The COVID-19 crisis is also affecting the working migrants in the region. The imposition of quarantine measures and closure of businesses led thousands living in Russia and Europe to lose jobs. In addition, with countries tightening control at their borders and introducing freedom of movement restrictions, working migrants cannot return to their home countries. This has already led to a drop in remittances across the region, a key factor in economic support to many countries.

As an immediate response, UNDP has been supporting countries around the region in providing the necessary information and personal protection supplies for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, minorities, people with disabilities and those displaced and affected by conflict.

Now, we are exploring the magnitude of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on households, businesses and communities.  These socio-economic assessments also help to identify the new vulnerable, informal workers, returnees from abroad and workers without standard employment contracts who fall outside of the social protection system, as well as institutional and systemic gaps to help chart the way forward to an inclusive and better recovery.

The prolonged period of underinvestment, high level of informality and tax evasion, and changing demographics exacerbate strains on social protection, health and other care systems. Aging societies in one part of the region and the rapid growth in youth population in other parts need different coping mechanisms and measures to respond to the pandemic.

The global nature of the pandemic has impacted production networks, supply and value chains and substantially restricted activity in sectors such as agriculture, transport, tourism and hospitality, wholesale and retail trade and industry.  Small- and medium-enterprises are faced with challenges of adapting to new business models requiring new skills and focusing on remote work arrangements, digital methods and on-line processes. 

Skills mismatches have been one of the main challenges for private sector-led growth across countries in the region, so adopting new techniques and skills development will figure strongly in our recovery policies.

To mitigate the negative impact on economies across the region in the immediate term, UNDP has been working on new solutions to skills development to ensure business continuity during the lockdown and to support the transition to risk-resilient, sustainable production and consumption practices.

 

Here's what we're doing

 

- Youth reskilling programs have been launched by UNDP Armenia for remote work in communities where jobs are lost due to COVID-19. The CO is working on a technical assistance scheme and co-financing opportunities for prospective recipients (agribusinesses and farmers) of the government support package, as well as designing alternative income generation schemes for the tourism industry and agricultural production schemes for farmers.

- UNDP in Azerbaijan, with the EU and civil society organizations, organised business development trainings for over 6,000 aspiring women entrepreneurs.

It also supported the launch of a web platform, run by local civil society organizations, to ensure provision of free legal aid and psychological support for women living in rural regions.

- In Belarus, through its large ongoing local economic development project, UNDP together with the Ministry of Economy and regional administrations, is scaling up support to SMEs through business support centers, techno parks, business incubators for women and youth, clustering initiatives, business advisory services and digital online solutions.

- The EU has pledged 14 million Euros to support UNDP projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina in severely-affected sector such as agriculture, tourism and small and medium-enterprises.

UNDP collected extensive data for its Economic Pulse of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a platform for insights into trends and the state of the private sector during and post COVID-19 crisis, reaching 14,000 domestic companies for a comparative analysis of the state of the private sector in June vs. April this year.

- In Georgia, activities have been re-programmed to sustain women farmers’ livelihoods, support women’s groups in addressing urgent community needs, and develop distance learning and consultancy prospects for farmers.

To help the country's rural regions respond to emerging economic and social challenges, the EU and UNDP launched a grant programme with the Agriculture and Rural Development Agency of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture. The grants are designed to boost rural entrepreneurship, create sustainable jobs, improve the management of natural resources and promote climate action.

The EU and UNDP also helped prepare a local tourism strategy, reflecting COVID-19 challenges to keep visitors safe, attract investments, create jobs

- For early recovery efforts, UNDP in Kazakhstan focused on active employment measures for vulnerable groups, targeting youth in remote areas and people with disabilities. The measures will be connected to the labor market modernization efforts with future skills and digitalization at the core, part of its ‘COVID-19 Kazakhstan Economic Recovery Plan’.

It is also partnering with the Asian Development Bank and the Government to implement a COVID-19 Solidarity Fund for immediate relief of SMEs, online business platform and training for workers who lost their jobs.

- In Kyrgyzstan, UNDP’s response takes into consideration the need for reinforcing social cohesion, particularly in the southern multi-ethnic areas which could potentially become hotspots of conflict due to lack of available basic goods, and to mitigate potential impact of cross-border issues regarding the security of food, water, and other resources.

- A UNDP Moldova iniative, supported by the Government of Sweden is giving grants for women-headed households, women entrepreurs and rural communities to build resilience to climate change and implement environment-friendly practices.

Another programme will give grants to young people from the Transnistria region to initiate or expand businesses.

- UNDP upgraded Montenegro’s e-Social Card system to facilitate new cash transfers to enable ad-hoc payments to the poorest families, to help them through financial hardship exacerbated by the pandemic.

- In North Macedonia, a community works program of UNDP was repurposed to provide services to the elderly, frail and vulnerable whose lives are more deeply affected by self-isolation measures. Unemployed workers were mobilized to deliver groceries, medicines and necessary supplies.

- UNDP in Serbia supported the establishment of the online platform to connect volunteers and citizens over 65+ years old who have been in obligatory isolation with 7,000 volunteers available to local governments.

Roma UN Volunteers are active in 30 local communities, assessing the most pressing needs and informing local administrations of the type of assistance required. Roma UNVs are helping Roma children in their local communities to use the computer programmes needed for reading the teaching materials for online classes.

- UNDP in Tajikistan is tailoring its ongoing business acceleration programs to support vulnerable youth and women-led projects and small businesses in potential areas of growth, like online retail, delivery of goods and services, digital platforms to consolidate service delivery, and reorienting SMEs to address growing local demand for specific goods and services.

- In Turkey, Syria’s Crisis Response Program ensured the continuity of its learning and training programmes for refugees through distance technology. It also adjusted its activities to equip Syrian owned enterprises on how to use digital tools to maintain and develop their businesses in the time of crises, and used its networks to disseminate information regarding COVID-19 to refugee communities.

The UNDP-supported Business for Goals Platform, with TÜRKONFED and TÜSİAD, immediately conducted a quick socioeconomic survey in the private sector to assess the needs and evolving risks among SMEs and supply chains, which will be repeated and integrated in the wider UNDP impact assessment.

- Through the SDG-funded UN Joint Programme on social protection in Turkmenistan, UNDP is working to support the establishment of an inclusive community-based social service model with integration of social contracting to civil society organizations.

- In Ukraine, a business grants contest aimed at start-up, renewal, or expansion of MSMEs in eastern Ukraine was launched to provide local residents and IDPs, who lost their jobs due to pandemic, self-employment and income-generation opportunities.

In addition, in partnership with Ukraine Chambers of Commerce and Industry, UNDP hosted webinars and online consultations for MSMEs to overcome the pandemic’s impact on entrepreneurs in eastern Ukraine. They learned entrepreneurial decision-making and effective team management during telework, as well as on utilizing online tax services and using in-person negotiations to increase a company’s sales. UNDP has also developed a chatbot for MSMEs enabling them to get rapid responses about registering force majeure clauses.

- One of the key priorities outlined in its Uzbekistan’s ‘National Recovery Plan’ is supporting the expansion of the existing social protection system in order to ensure coherence between social assistance, labor market and social insurance programs.

 

 

 

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