Southeast Asia is on the brink of a “socio-economic crisis” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that could reverse decades of poverty reduction, the United Nations has warned. “The crisis threatens to destroy the livelihoods of Southeast Asia’s 218 million informal workers,” a U.N. policy brief released on Thursday said. “Without alternative income, formal social protection systems or savings to buffer these shocks, workers and their families will be pushed into poverty, reversing decades of poverty reduction.” The region-wide economy was expected to contract by 0.4 per cent in 2020, it said, while remittances from Southeast Asians working abroad were likely to fall by 13 per cent or $10 billion. The paper urged nations to fix “fiscal termites”: budget-sapping problems like tax evasion, transfer pricing and fossil fuel subsidies so they can deliver large stimulus packages to help vulnerable populations and boost their economies. Current low oil prices provided an ideal opportunity to reverse fossil fuel subsidies, it added.