Fear and poverty in Turkey as pandemic hits Erdogan base
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Huseyin Goksoy, a tailor who was so stressed about being hungry during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic that he was briefly bedridden with a hernia, is increasingly worried about his future as Turkey is striving to reduce poverty.
He is not alone.
Although a two-month lockdown ended in June, around four million Turks still rely on state aid to fend for themselves, while more informal workers have missed out on most of the financial support.
Polls and academic research paint a grim picture ahead of the day President Tayyip Erdogan’s government is expected to lift the temporary ban on layoffs, possibly as early as November.
Goksoy, 48, makes face masks to help cover losses at the start of the year when he couldn’t get a subsidized small business loan because there was no guarantor in his conservative downtown neighborhood. ‘Istanbul.
“People don’t dress when they’re not working, so I only mended tears and it was 5-10 lire ($ 1) a day – if it was,” he said. he says. “I still can’t send money to my kids when they want to. If I do a bad job, I would be hungry.
Data and surveys show that fear and disillusionment like this is unprecedented in the job market. Hardest hit are the same Turks who benefited from Erdogan’s years of social policy which helped to dramatically reduce income inequality.
A study by Turkish economists Ayse Aylin Bayar, Oner Guncavdi and Haluk Levent predicts that the number of impoverished Turks could double this year to nearly 20 million and delay progress in reducing inequalities by two decades.
This would effectively wipe out the successes of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP (AKP) party and could test its most loyal electoral base in the next general election scheduled for 2023.
Goksoy – whose store is near the president’s childhood home – said he still supports the AKP, although he would change his mind if he thought the party was no longer being fair.
Erdogan said on Monday that the economy would emerge stronger from the pandemic even if its effects persist, adding that the government’s 100 billion lira ($ 13 billion) aid package has helped low-income households.
Representatives of the presidency and the finance ministry, which administers aid, did not immediately respond to questions about rising poverty.
The aid scheme partially covers the wages of many registered workers and has funded some 2 million needy households. Large cities ruled by the main opposition party were able to gain additional funds and food supplies.
But Turkey’s combination of low-skilled labor in which one-third of workers informally earn money on a daily basis – a private sector dominated by small businesses and public finances already strained by the 2018 recession – 2019 leaves the country particularly vulnerable.
(For a graphic on frustrated Turkish workers 🙂
Central bank reserves, which have supported much of the pandemic response, have fallen sharply and hastened the fall of the Turkish lira to historically low levels. This in turn increases the prices of imported commodities.
By law, Erdogan can extend the ban on layoffs beyond November until mid-2021 to protect workers, but at a tax cost.
“These are not sustainable policies,” said Guncavdi, an economist at Istanbul Technical University, co-author of the study predicting rising poverty.
“When they are returned, there is a risk of upheaval with massive layoffs, spike in destitution, tested family structures and potential demonization of minorities and refugees.”
Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees have faced backlash in past recessions, and those who remained unemployed this year had little safety net.
Retired florist Kemal Erdogan, 76, said this week that he supports the AKP, but added that with the poor getting poorer and poorer, it was clear Turkey was welcoming too many ‘strangers who “live better than you and me”.
An unprecedented slump in jobs lasted after the lockdown was lifted in June and July, pushed by workers who were not officially on payrolls, government data showed on Thursday.
(For a graphic on the fallout from the pandemic for Turkish workers 🙂
A record 1.4 million was too discouraged to look for work, nearly three times more than a year ago. Among those who had a job last month, nearly half were “very afraid” of losing it by winter, according to an Istanbul Economics Research poll.
Can Selcuki, managing director of the consultancy firm, said this likely reflects workers’ suspicion that they will be fired “the minute” the dismissal ban is lifted. He added that support for Erdogan’s ruling alliance fell to 44% in a poll this month, from 46% in August after a summer rebound.
Turkey, like several other countries, banned layoffs in April when it also closed most businesses, closed borders and intercity travel, and passed partial stay-at-home orders.
Large gatherings have been curbed, leaving Mehmet Coskun, a wedding drummer without social security, only a third of his usual concerts. “I don’t know what to do when my loan payments come in,” he said. “Maybe I can sell water or clean buildings.”
According to the World Bank, these lost jobs in the service, tourism and construction sectors are most affected by Turkey’s poorest households. The bank, however, predicts that the poverty rate will increase less than predicted in the Turkish study, to around 12% from 10%, contained in part by state aid.
A recent spike in coronavirus cases to early May levels only raises concerns.
Meryem Yildirim, who opened a women’s clothing store in Istanbul two months ago, said a return to lockdown was her worst nightmare.
“All the small businesses think that way now,” the mother-of-two said, adding that she took out a loan to pay the rent and to cover a second loan on the store.
(For a graph on discouraged workers, click here: tmsnrt.rs/32cZlmi)
(For a graph on employment and labor market participation, click here: tmsnrt.rs/3m7Kx03)
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Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise