SMEs are at the centre of the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures, more so than during the 2008 financial crisis. The current crisis has affected SMEs disproportionately, and has revealed their vulnerability to the supply and demand shock (in particular with regard to their liquidity) with a serious risk that over 50% of SMEs will not survive the next few months. A widespread collapse of SMEs (60-70% of OECD employment) could have a strong impact on national economies and global growth prospects, on perceptions and expectations, and even on the financial sector, which may already be under strain by non-performing portfolios. In some countries, a deterioration of the financial situation of SMEs could have systemic effects on the banking sector as a whole.
In their response to the crisis, governments have been quick to acknowledge the specific circumstances of SMEs, and have put in place policies to support them. Across countries, the policy response frequently followed this sequence of measures :
- Health measures, and information for SMEs on how to adhere to them;
- Measures to address liquidity by deferring payments;
- Measures to supply extra and more easily available credit to strengthen SME resilience;
- Measures to avoid, or mitigate the consequences of, unorganised lay-offs by extending possibilities for temporary redundancies and wage subsidies, and ;
- Structural policies.