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

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).

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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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