Informal labour plays a vital role in African economies and societies. In most African countries, between 80 and 95 per cent of the working population make a living working in the informal economy. Informality thus shapes how people live and how they interact with the state. People working and living in informality have less access to public services than people earning their income in the formal economy. They seldom benefit from state social protection and are not protected by labour and social legislation. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the conditions of many Africans living in informality. Despite the crucial role of informal labour for African economies and societies only few empirical data exist on the subject. In 2017 representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) together with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) decided to join forces to help closing this gap and launched the multiannual comprehensive research project Informal Employment, Social Security and Political Trust in sub-Saharan Africa.
Together with experts from AfroBarometer the design and the questionnaire of the opinion poll were created. The entire research benefitted greatly from AfroBarometer, following their research protocol in designing the survey sample and the selection of households. Beginning from 2018 the collaborative research project surveyed thousands of households that generate their income from informal labour in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia. In order to understand the impact of Covid-19 and the impact of policy measures connected to the pandemic on informal workers and their families, a second round of surveys was conducted in Kenya and Senegal. Along with the comprehensive joint report “A Majority Working in the Shadows” other publications on specific topics based on the data are also available for download, please see below. FES is inviting scholars and researchers to use the rich set of data to contribute to a better understanding of informal labour in sub-Saharan Africa and help to focus policies on this particular and highly relevant group of people.
According to UNDP (2020) about 408 million people in sub-Saharan Africa remain without access to health care. Workers in informal employment and their family members are disproportionately affected by health coverage gaps, even in relation to national health systems that provide access to free health care. It comes therefore with no surprise that the majority of workers in the informal economy identify access to health care as their key demand, when asked about their expectations in better state services. There is also a great willingness to pay for health insurance among the informally employed – even by the poor.
Trust in institutions is crucial for ensuring the success of a wide range of public policies. For example, public trust leads to greater compliance with public health responses, regulations and the tax system. The survey shows that there is a high demand for redistribution among the informally employed. People who work in the informal sector even show a high readiness to pay fees and taxes, if the government delivers on core demands such as health services. Unfortunately, there is a low level of trust in government institutions and political parties. People tend to trust traditional and religious leaders instead.
Informal economy actors are excluded from much of the security and protection that the state extents to the formal economy. Forming associations, cooperatives and self-help groups may be the most promising way in which informal economy actors can obtain social security, political weight, economic opportunities and a shared identity. In the six surveyed countries about half of all informally employed people are organized in a group. On average throughout the six countries, saving clubs are the most popular, followed by religious associations, neighborhood groups, and cooperatives. Political parties, cultural groups and trade unions lag far behind.
Because of the insufficient access to social protection and health services among the informally employed, they are more vulnerable to external shocks such as the pandemic. While most social assistance packages were targeted only to the formal sector, the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic caused a sharp increase in income poverty among the informally employed in most of the countries. A comparison of two different social relief programmes (Kenya and Senegal) indicate that a more comprehensive approach could even reduce poverty and inequality despite the economic effects of the pandemic.
Rudolf Traub-Merz, December 2020
Informal workers in sub-Saharan Africa are rarely organized in trade unions. However, a representative study shows that there is great potential for recruitment among these workers.
Rudolf Traub-Merz / Manfred Öhm, February 2021
The study, based on representative survey data, shows that health care, as an important component of social protection systems, is not only an essential human need, but its provision by the state and the access to it is highly demanded by citizens across the African continent.
Jürgen Schwettmann, January 2022
Health care plays a crucial role in combating social inequality: people working in the informal economies of sub-Saharan Africa are generally poor and therefore are at much higher risk of falling into financial debt because of the cost of treatment. Several African countries have, in recent years, made considerable progress in extending universal health coverage (UHC) to households in the informal economy. This publication provides an overview of the progress made in advancing towards the global goal of achieving universal health coverage in six African countries.
Rudolf Traub-Merz, September 2022
The governments of Kenya and Senegal reacted quickly to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. They applied different lockdown policies and different social relief measures to assist vulnerable households in withstanding the health crisis. Based on empirical data of the research project “Informal Employment, Social Security and Political Trust in sub-Saharan Africa”, which was jointly conducted by ILO, IDOS and FES, the report discusses the impact of different policy approaches on poverty and inequality in the two countries’ informal economies.
For scholars and researchers: Should you be interested in the huge set of data from the surveys, please get in touch with us by using the below-mentioned contact form.