Widening inequality: how the coronavirus outbreak will affect Europe’s poorest people the most
The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted millions of lives around the world, with almost every country reporting confirmed cases over the last few months.
In Europe, some countries are now heading towards a ‘recovery phase,’ with shops, bars and restaurants reopening and some semblance of normal life returning, whilst others are navigating the beginnings of their second phase. But what about the people who were least equipped to cope with a disaster on this scale in the first place?
The Moldova Project supports families living in poverty in remote villages in Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. Although the country has experienced economic growth in recent years, 19% of people in rural areas still live below the poverty line. Cut off from the progress felt by those in cities, in villages in the countryside there is a high prevalence of issues including poor mental health, long-term unemployment and domestic violence.
Before the coronavirus outbreak hit, The Moldova Project already had 11 years of experience in providing intensive, long-term support to families most in need, helping them to work towards self-sufficiency. This looks different for every family – for some, ensuring basic needs are met, signposting them to local services and ensuring they can access entitlements such as welfare payments helps them improve their situation over a short period. More often, though, a longer-term package of support is required, including a combination of counselling and practical support.
When the pandemic began, the challenges faced by families living in extreme poverty multiplied around the world. Millions of livelihoods globally depend on the informal economy, with little resilience to the sudden reduction in income and limited access to resources imposed by recent lockdowns. Social distancing is more difficult for those who cannot afford to stay home rather than go to work, and a lack of affordable healthcare increases the vulnerability of those who simply cannot afford treatment if they catch the virus. The UN has called an increase in domestic violence during lockdowns a ‘shadow pandemic’, with cases thought to have increased by as much as 20% around the world.
The Moldova Project’s model of support has adapted to this ‘new normal.’ In partnership with local authorities and Avi Moldova, and with funding from the Black Sea Trust, we have set up the Violet Line; a phone line providing practical support, counselling and advice to families struggling with the additional pressures they are facing. We are also continuing to make regular visits to families, using social distancing measures. Alongside this, our team are working hard to reduce the impact of the break in education on children, providing a mobile library and art therapy using social distancing measures.
This support has proven effective in supporting families through this crisis in the short-term. However, Moldova’s social and economic vulnerability to Covid-19 has been ranked as one of the highest in Europe, with the health system under significant strain, so we must adapt to the long-term reality of this situation.
As wealthier European countries begin to go back to normal life, we must not forget those who are so often overlooked in Eastern Europe. For many families in the villages, returning to normal does not mean going to cafes and watching sport on TV. It means going back to work in the fields, but as many have been unable to work during the lucrative summer months, the burden will be greater than ever. It is vitally important that we continue to work with local authorities, partners and vulnerable families themselves to minimise the impact of the pandemic on those who can least afford it.
 United Nations Development Programme, 2017. https://www.md.undp.org/content/moldova/en/home.html  United Nations Women, May 2020. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/5/press-release-the-shadow-pandemic-of-violence-against-women-during-covid-19  Oxford Economics, April 2020. Republic of Moldova: Bracing for domestic and external Covid-19 shocks.