EDITORIAL: It turns out, according to an Ipsos survey that has been measuring Global Consumer Confidence Index (GCCI), that rising unemployment and a higher cost of living are bigger threats for Pakistanis than the prospect of death from the coronavirus. Come to think of it, when one's livelihood is under attack, one does not really have the luxury of hiding behind a pandemic, does one? People's confidence in the economy, both in terms of its ability to absorb new shocks and direction, further declined in June compared to March this year, according to the survey. Ipsos is a global market research and consulting firm that has been conducting surveys in Pakistan. The GCCI dipped to its lowest score of 22 in June in Pakistan compared with the global average of 45.1 and average of 42.5 for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This shows that a dilution or disruption of the take-home pay is most people's biggest concern, since that is what affects the ability to keep the bulbs on, keep children in school, etc.
The survey findings also revealed that consumers had very low confidence and were very reluctant to make investment decisions. They were also not very optimistic about the future of the economy and their jobs. The fear of losing jobs has grown manifold compared to the survey three months ago. The survey was conducted in June and an overwhelming number of respondents, 86 percent to be precise, said unemployment was the biggest concern. That means that for one out of every three people, unemployment is the number-one problem. And it's not too hard to understand. The longer the economy remains depressed the more the pressure on jobs and household expenditure, and the more the chances of getting the axe on the job one fine day and coming home to an untenable situation. Rising inflation was the second biggest concern for 83% of the respondents, according to the survey. Covid-19, which has crippled global and Pakistan's economy, was third in the list as 78% of the respondents said the virus was one of the worrying issues. However, the spread of coronavirus in Pakistan has slowed down in recent days and a significant majority of the affected people has recovered from the disease. About 69% of respondents said poverty was one of the key concerns for them while a lack of healthcare and educational facilities was the fifth biggest concern for people.
In what would be a rude shock to the government that believes everything is right on the economic front, only 3% of respondents said the economy was strong - a ratio that was 5% three months ago. Government spokespersons seem to think they have done a stellar job at stabilising the economy, even though the opposition is up in arms over the matter. Just because the idea of the smart lockdown worked and the number of infections and deaths has been contained, they say, does not mean that the economy is back in full swing yet. And the common man had a pretty hard deal of it even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Inflation was at a multi-year high, so was unemployment, and the economy was contracting at the fastest pace on record; which meant job losses, higher poverty statistics, and all that. Then, in fact, the coronavirus came as something of a savior for the government. Now it can blame all its problems on it and get away with it. About half of the respondents - 49% to be precise - said the economy was very weak while three months ago 38% had believed that the economic situation was weak.
This survey shows that unemployment and economic carnage are the biggest legacy of this coronavirus pandemic. When it came it was thought that its life-taking feature would stand out, and the world's entire population would be affected, but now it is clear that its biggest casualty has been people's jobs and the overall economic situation. For, an economy on the decline has been known to deliver the kiss of death far more quickly to far more people than an out of control virus. Surely, there are lessons in this for world governments. Next time when something like this happens they should not only line up to erect quarantine facilities but also make economic/financial breakwaters that can help withstand the economic impact of the virus.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020