In countries experiencing increased exposure to disasters and climate change consequences, there is a growing recognition of the role of Social Safety Nets (SSNs) for building resilience. Countries with effective safety net programmes use them to respond to crises and disasters, while countries without such programmes tend to rely on ad hoc and less effective responses. According to The State of Social Safety Nets 2015 report by the World Bank, “more than 1.9 billion people in 136 low and middle income countries are beneficiaries of SSNs programmes. In Africa alone, the number of countries setting up SSNs programmes has doubled over the past three years, as evidenced by the rigorous evaluation that prove these programmes works.” These programmes are launched with objective of protecting vulnerable and chronic poor families from the impact of economic shocks, natural disasters and other crisis; ensuring that children grow up healthy, well-fed, and can stay in school and learn; empowering women and girls; creating jobs. SSNs programmes are also essential for achieving SGDs goals. More than any other objective Social Safety Nets save people from hunger and thus death. That is BISP’s biggest contribution to Pakistan.
The importance of SSNs programme is well highlighted in the Constitution of Pakistan. The Constitution of Pakistan states: provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise, social security by compulsory social insurance or other means; provide basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, creed, caste, or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment; reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals (Article 38 c, d & e).
With these aims, BISP was launched in 2008 as a flagship SSN programme by the government of Pakistan to provide direct support to poor and vulnerable families by raising their income and to help with their daily needs. Since its inception, BISP has grown rapidly; it is now the largest single cash transfer programme in Pakistan’s history and one of the largest in South Asia. The PML-N government continues to increase BISP budgets and BISP 2016-17 budget is now at Rs115b. BISP currently provides income support of Rs4700 per quarter directly to female members of the households for consumption smoothening as well as investments in human capital development. Currently more than 5.3 million families are its beneficiaries across Pakistan. All this is only possible because of the fiscal space created by the successful economic policies of the PML-N government as per vision of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar.
Recently the strengthening stabilisation of the economy was well established in the 2015-16 Economic survey. A 4.71% GDP has been achieved. This along with the annual increase of industrial growth rate from 4.81% to 6.8%, increase in Large Scale Manufacturing from 3.29% to 4.61%, increase in mining growth from 3.97% to 6.8%, increase in electricity generation growth from 11.98% to 12.18%, increase in construction growth from 6.24% to 13.1%, increase in services growth from 4.3% to 5.7%, increase in wholesale retail growth from 2.63% to 4.57%, increase in finance insurance sector from 6.48% to 7.84%, increase in banking sector assets from Rs12.1t to Rs14.3t, increase in agriculture credit from Rs 369b to Rs441b, decrease in inflation from 4.65% to 2.82%, increase in workers remittances from $15.24b to $16.03b, increase in FDI from $0.96b to $1.02b, increase in FX Reserves to all time high of $21.6b, maintenance of a stable rupee at 104-5, reduction in poverty from 64.2% to 29.5%, increase in per capita income from $1516.8 to $1560.7, increase in FBR tax collection from Rs1973.6b to Rs2346.1b. These are just some of the highlights of how the Pakistani economy is moving from stabilisation to growth. All this makes it more possible for government to concentrate on spending more on poor.
In terms of how the PML-N government has recently announced a pro-poor budget I am pleased to highlight some of those factors which will have a crucial impact on our poor. Firstly, of course renewed commitment to BISP the largest social safety net by increased budgets. Moreover an increase from Rs2b to Rs4b in Baitul Mal funds. Similarly a renewed commitment to our youth and self-employment through a continued budget of Rs20b to all PM youth Programmes which invariably affect our BISP population. A commitment to add an additional 10,000MW in the national grid by March 2018 will significantly help the poor.
An amazing allocation for development expenditure of Rs800b will also affect our poorest in growth, jobs and ease of living. A water allocation of Rs32b especially in areas like Balochistan will reduce the issue of water starved status of Pakistan for the future and will have a direct impact on the poorest. Similarly, a power sector allocation of Rs380b will help resolve many of the issues of the entire country from a growth perspective which directly impact the poor as well. An increase for highways at Rs 188b and roads which are critical for bringing the poor closer to cities is also a welcome step from the government.
Railways increase of budget at Rs78b will also help our poor. PM health Insurance which is directly taken from BISP database and serves the poorest of the poor has been increased to Rs22.4b. A huge package for agriculture with exemption of sales tax on pesticides of 7%, direct cash support to small farmers of Rs40b will help, exclusion of second hand clothing from further tax levy will certainly help the poor, reduced pricing for fertilizer at Rs1400, DAP at Rs2500 and tubewell rates at Rs5.35 per unit with many concessions for poultry and fishing is bound to help our poor who work in the agriculture sector the most. Special focus on rates for inputs of minerals used for reducing malnutrition is also a sensitive part of the budget because it takes into account that the poorest need nutrition or else they will be inadequate quality workforce for our future. A minimum wage increase to Rs14,000 is also welcomed. These are only some of the highlights of the budget 2016-17 which show that the PML-N government has a vision and intends delivering consistently.
Coming back to how BISP is contributing to the larger poverty management scenario, it is vital to asses out whether BISP is making impact on consumption, smoothening and poverty alleviation. Toward this end, to inform the policy makers, stakeholders, international communities and the donors, on the scope, efficiency and effectiveness of BISP as an antipoverty instrument, BISP has initiated a series of impact evaluation studies through third party firm namely Oxford Policy Management (OPM) – a globally renowned research organisation. The OPM’s “Impact evaluation report” cites the relevance and effectiveness of the programme in delivering its broad aim of protecting Pakistan’s vulnerable population from chronic poverty.
Here are key findings of this report:
Poverty: BISP has a significant impact on increasing consumption expenditure and reducing poverty for households. The evaluation indicates that per adult equivalent monthly consumption expenditure has induced a net increase of Rs318. BISP causes a 22 percentage point reduction in poverty for the Regression Discontinuity (RD) treatment group. BISP has also induced a fall in the depth of poverty.
Food expenditure and Nutrition: BISP has a positive impact on the consumption of eggs and wheat for households within the relevant RD treatment sub-sample. BISP has reduced the rates of malnutrition amongst girls (aged 0-59 months).
Women’s empowerment: About 64% of female beneficiaries retain control over cash transfer. Now women can feel empowered by their contributions to the household budget and their decreased dependency on their husbands. The evaluation suggests a small shift in community perceptions regarding the mobility of women, accepting that women can travel to collect the transfer themselves. Receipt of BISP cash transfer has also increased the likelihood of women being permitted to visit friends’ houses alone. Due to the mandatory requirement of CNIC, BISP is directly responsible for more women turnout in post 2008 election.
According to this report, BISP has caused a change inthe livelihood strategies adopted by beneficiary households. Following are the key findings regarding the livelihoods impacts:
i) Increase in self employment: There is a significant shift in employment from casual labour to self-employment. It indicates that BISP support the adoption of less vulnerable livelihood strategies.
ii) Decrease labour participation of vulnerable members: BISP reduces the labour participation of vulnerable members (the old and the sick) in beneficiary households.
iii) Decrease in child labour: BISP reduces the proportion of boys who engage in child labour but there is no impact for girls.
iv) Health: BISP is associated with an increase in the reported expenditure on health, increasing per adult equivalent health expenditure by around Rs50.
v) Finance: Poor households often lack access to secure means of saving. BISP has induced an increase in the propensity to save amongst beneficiary households.
The OPM report validates that the progress made by BISP as the flagship SSN is aligned with the Pakistan Vision 2025 which is people centric and aims at reducing poverty and enhancing the people’s welfare. The PML-N government is putting all efforts to ensure social equity and inclusion.
Toward the human capital development, BISP has initiated Waseela-e-Taleem programme. Through this programme, BISP has been rolled out to 32 districts all over Pakistan and more than 1.3 million children have been registered in the programme. The initiative aims to enroll approximately 02 million children in primary schools by December 2016.
4 big game changers which will not just make BISP the pride of Pakistan but continue to keep it as the flagship poverty programme of the government are as follows:
Firstly BISP will be conducting fresh resurvey of poverty through the world class computerised Poverty scorecard methodology in 2016-17 for entire country. This will once again give all governments federal and provincial as well as private sector the chance to target their programmes to the real poor, the worst on the poverty pyramid. Secondly, BISP will be changing its payment methodology so that mafia is cut, transparency is increased, more access points are given to beneficiaries, and illiterate beneficiaries are given assurance of each penny reaching them. Thirdly BISP is enrolling children to schools and has already contributed 1.3mm enrollments. This will be a game changer for bringing the poor into the education net. Fourthly, the biggest game changer for BISP helping Pakistanis exit poverty is BISP e-commerce recently launched.
This e-commerce product is such that all women working on handmade products from home in their distant villages will be assisted to market them online through which they will access the world. It is a truly the self-employment entrepreneur large scale game changer where millions of women will sell handicrafts and agriculture products to the world from their villages. It is truly the most exciting revolution at BISP today.
Overall we at BISP are part of the journey that the PML-N government is taking for the poor and ensuring that the poorest exit poverty soon. We are humbled and grateful for this opportunity to serve our people thanks to our government and our leadership.
The writer is also Chairperson BISP and Minister of State