LAHORE: Situation on the economic front has worsened for the poor, as they have no clue where to look for relief. Few lucky people do get food rations from private donors, but there is no official...
LAHORE: Situation on the economic front has worsened for the poor, as they have no clue where to look for relief. Few lucky people do get food rations from private donors, but there is no official capacity to reach even 10 percent of the needy.
We were never prepared for the pandemic of this magnitude. In pre-coronavirus era, almost 90 percent poor of the country were served by philanthropists from the private sector.
There is no documented account of which segment contributed more. In fact, the philanthropic activities of the corporate sector were concentrated more on education, environment and health sectors.
It was the middle class and that includes both upper and middle which was more active in addressing the hunger of the poor. Our statistics on poverty always belie the ground reality.
Our planners think that a family managing its monthly budget on the minimum salary of Rs17,000/month does not fall among poor. The average family size in Pakistan is 6.5 persons.
The average family size of the affluent is much less and that of poor is much higher. Even at average family size of 6.5 percent, Rs17,000 monthly income means that average share of each family member comes to Rs2,615.
This amount cannot even cover the daily nutrition needed to keep an individual healthy. From the minimum wage, most of those who come from rural areas to cities have to rent a place to live in.
They have to bear the electricity, water and kitchen fuel charges plus some amount for public transport. From this minimum wage they have to bear the education expenses of the child and health needs of the family, including the old family members that need regular medicines.
The worker drawing minimum wages are looked after by the society. Most of them live in slums around affluent and posh residential localities.
Their women and children (most of whom do not go to school) are employed in these residences at paltry salaries. The main servants even after doing cleaning and washing work in three houses, hardly earn Rs9,000/month.
But most of the residents do give them food. Women used to take food from these houses, fed their other family members. They also used to get used clothing of the members of the affluent families that saved them some money.
After lockdown, everything is blocked. The minimum wage earner is not going to his/her office and is not sure if the salary for March would be paid by the mills or offices where he/she worked.
They were mostly working in small and medium enterprises that did not have reserves build up to cope with the current crisis. In fact, these enterprises consumed most of their extra fat during the last 18 months of economic meltdown.
They are not in a position to cope with the atrophy caused by the coronavirus. Even the top businessmen having billions in reserves have told the government that they would pay at the most one months’ salary from their resources when every business is closed.
After that the government would have to pitch in with their aid. In such a scenario, the earnings of minimum wage earners are under a cloud.
At the same time, most of the house maids or house servants have been asked by households not to come to work. Some have been assured of their wage and some not.
The food that they used to get from these households has also been suspended. These families are having nightmares as to how they would manage if the lockdown prolonged which in all likelihood would continue.
These salaried persons are not on the radar of the state planners. They are stuck up on the daily wagers only. There too the data is insufficient and unreliable. Poor are feeling the pinch after almost two weeks of lockdown.
Even during normal times, the employed class used to exhaust all its resources in the last week of every month. Now, the next month has arrived and they have no idea when their salaries be disbursed or whether the employers would pay any salary at all.
They urgently need food. They have no resources to buy food, prices of which are increasing. There is no viable plan for distribution of ration at the official level.
There are sporadic exercises that are far from enough. In situations like these, prudent rulers burn their midnight oil to find quick solutions. In our case we are playing to the gallery through frequent media briefings repeating the same stuff every time.