In Tashkent, a study analyzing the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on households across Uzbekistan was presented at a round table on March 12.
Experts and management of the Center for Economic Research and Reforms (CERR), the Development Strategy Center (DSC), the World Bank Country Office, ministries and state agencies concerned, research institutes, representatives of international organizations and the diplomatic corps attended the event.
The event participants were informed about the results of a study carried under the Listening to the Citizens of Uzbekistan Project (L2CU) assessing the impact of the pandemic on the social and economic well-being and psychological health of citizens in the country from April 2020 to January 2021.
The project was launched in 2018 and is currently being implemented by the CERR and the DSC with the World Bank support. On monthly basis, it analyzes the views and well-being of respondents from 4,000 households across the country. The survey also involves leaders from 600 mahallas located in all regions of Uzbekistan.
After the introduction of the first nationwide lockdown in March 2020, the project also started monitoring the impact of the pandemic on the social and economic well-being and health of citizens. Since the beginning of the crisis, over 18,000 interviews have been conducted among representatives of the households and 4,000 interviews among mahalla leaders.
The data collected during the project implementation is being used to develop policy measures for reducing poverty, to mitigate social and economic consequences of the pandemic for vulnerable groups, including women, low-income families and the unemployed, as well as to plan programs on Uzbekistan’s post-crisis economic recovery.
The project data covering the impact of the pandemic on employment, labor migration, remittances, female-headed households, gender gaps, as well as the effectiveness of various instruments of social assistance over the past years was presented to the event participants.
According to the recent L2CU results, the number of vacancies posted on job search sites, which mainly covered Tashkent's labor market in April 2020, decreased by more than 54% compared to the previous year. In December, their number continued to remain 20% lower compared to the same period in 2019. At the same time, the number of job seekers has increased.
In April 2020, less than half of the respondents noted that some of their family members were able to continue working after the start of the lockdown. This led to a sharp decline in labor income - the main source of the population's well-being. While most of the initial employment disruptions were temporary, the rate of recovery in 2020 was slower to pre-lockdowns levels, especially among previously self-employed individuals.
In November 2020, the respondents expressed their concerns related to high price increases. However, by the end of the year, the situation stabilized, returning to pre-crisis indicators.
As migration abroad also came to an abrupt halt, tens of thousands of families were left without the remittance income they typically rely on.
Following the pandemic, the share of households reporting their family members is actively considering future migration abroad fell nearly to zero. Their number is still low in 2021 compared to the level of 2019. The situation is likely to remain unchanged until mass vaccination of the population is carried out and restrictions on travel abroad are completely lifted.
An estimated 5.2 million people have received some form of emergency support at least once since April. Most assistance came as in-kind benefits or vouchers (68% among those reporting), or one-time cash benefits (29% among those reporting).
Respondents from urban reported having received assistance were more than twice as common in urban areas. In general, households with lower incomes were recipients of material assistance.
In the last months of 2020, mahalla leaders reported a reduced need for social assistance in the local population and a falling number of applications. Processing new applications for childcare allowances for families with children (aged 0-2), fell from 58% of mahallas in August to 28% in January 2021. New applications for low-income benefits for families with children (older than 2) fell from 51% to 32% over the same period.
Requests for other low-income allowances (not specifically tied to the presence of children in the household) fell from 56% of mahallas in August to 21% in January 2021. Requests for other charitable funds were processed in 46% of mahallas in August, falling to nearly zero in 2021.
According to the experts participating in the event, a decrease in the number of citizens' requests for emergency and social assistance can be considered a positive trend as it is one of the main indicators showing a gradual improvement of the economic situation when people less depend on such support.
In his speech, Director of CERR Obid Khakimov noted that in his address to the Oliy Majlis President Mirziyoyev set a number of goals the Government would need to achieve in 2021, including the development of a comprehensive strategy for poverty reduction and social protection based on international best practices.
“During the economic crisis provoked by the pandemic, work in this direction becomes more urgent. The data collected during the implementation of the Listening to the Citizens of Uzbekistan Project contributes to the development of more effective and closer to the real needs of people policy measures designed to reduce the poverty”, Khakimov emphasized.
During the event, World Bank experts also presented the preliminary results of a Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCD) to the audience. This document analyzes problems and tasks that Uzbekistan will have to solve in order to reduce the level of poverty and ensure the growth of the national economy in the coming years.
The SCD serves as the basis for developing a new Country Partnership Framework (CPF) between the World Bank and Uzbekistan for 2022-2026. It will outline the priority areas for the Bank’s financial and analytical support to the Government.
The event participants shared their recommendations regarding various socio-economic areas that need to be analyzed in the SCD in order to further assist Uzbekistan in tackling them during the implementation of the CPF later.
Public Relations Service CERR