ADBI Survey: COVID-19 Tests Southeast Asia’s Safety Nets

ADBI News Release | 17 September 2020

Tokyo, Japan – Supplementary income and coping strategies have helped to cushion steep household income declines in Southeast Asia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but further action is needed to bridge the region’s digital divide in education widened by the pandemic, according to the findings of a new ADBI households survey.

The results of the survey were unveiled during an ADBI webinar held in conjunction with the 53rd Asian Development Bank (ADB) Annual meeting.

About the Survey

A total of 8,000 households were surveyed by phone between May-July 2020 in samples of 1,000 in each of the following developing Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Key Findings

  • 73% of households reported income decline
  • 44% of households reported at least one member lost their job or had working hours reduced
  • Only 34% of households reported declines in household expenditures
  • 62% of households with kids in school said their schools offered online learning
  • Where online courses are offered, 27% of households said their children do not attend or attend only sometimes

Expert Quotes

Tetsushi Sonobe, Dean, ADBI

“Households in Southeast Asia experienced significant declines in employment and income during the COVID-19 crisis, correlating with the severity of domestic health situations and lockdowns.”

“Household businesses and the self-employed have shown the greatest vulnerability amid the pandemic, with 83% reporting a decline in income, followed by 60% of farmers and fisherman who reported a drop in income.”

“Income declines were offset by drawdowns of cash and savings which were utilized by half of the region’s households. Delayed payments and debt repayments were used by 35% of households while 34% applied for government aid.”   

Peter Morgan, Vice Chair of Research, ADBI

“Consumption among households fell, with more than a third reducing food consumption. But consumption fell less than income, buoyed by supplementary funding and coping strategies. This suggests that government aid programs have been at least partly effective.”

“Roughly half of households with school aged children reported that their kids did not attend school because of COVID-19. But you see quite a bit of variation by country, depending on the level of health concerns and stringency of government responses.”

“Online education is available to nearly two-thirds of households, but about a third of them can’t take advantage primarily due to the lack of a PC or tablet, followed by a weak internet connection or lack of one. This digital divide is an area for policy intervention going forward.”