Money Matters

Slaving to death

Money Matters
By Andaleeb Rizvi
Mon, 06, 22

Sakina was crying because the wiring of the bracket fan in her son’s room had fried and he was suffering from heat stroke. She said she was thankful to god that she had a roof on her head, even if it was made of tin, and life under it was pretty close to living in hell during Karachi summers.

Slaving to death

Sakina was crying because the wiring of the bracket fan in her son’s room had fried and he was suffering from heat stroke. She said she was thankful to god that she had a roof on her head, even if it was made of tin, and life under it was pretty close to living in hell during Karachi summers.

“Even after working in four homes, I can barely buy the needed monthly groceries for my family of five people,” she said, cursing K-Electric for fluctuation that fried the bracket fan. “I do not have any extra money for repair.”

She made these disclosures listlessly before getting back to work.

Sakina works as a maid in different homes. Her sufferings have increased because of high inflation. She claims that this year, even during Ramazan people did not distribute ration bags like they used to in the past.

“One of my bajis said that she can no longer afford to give ration, she used to give ration, an unstitched suit, and some money each Eid,” she shared, asking that if even those who had more money than her were suffering, how could she expect to have a better life?

Such stories are strife with pain and misery. Those living in working class shanties have a difficult life. From lack of access to basic services like safe drinking water, sanitation, electricity and gas, some of them cannot even access healthcare and education for their children.

Pakistan’s consumer price index is about to hit close to 20 percent. Analysts forecast June consumer price index (CPI) to fall in the range of 18.1-19.2 percent, recording a decade high, after massive surge in fuel prices, currency devaluation and adjustments in power and gas tariffs.

Sensitive price index (SPI), which measures weekly price movements of essential consumer items has already jumped up 1.01 percent week-on-week and 28 percent year-on-year during the seven-day period ended June 23, versus last 10-year average weekly increase of 0.2 percent. This is the highest increase in over a decade.

With commodity prices going haywire, lower and middle income groups are at their wits ends. It is becoming impossible for many to make ends meet, especially because of the rising costs of fuel and energy.

Usman Rehmani, who works as a peon and handyman at an ad agency, said he bought eggs and was shocked about the price. “One egg costs Rs17 these days. And it is summer. What will happen when it is winter? Will we have to pay in gold to buy eggs for our kids,” he asked.

For Rehmani, sending his children to school has become an issue too. He has been thinking of putting them in either a cheaper school or a charity or trust school where fee might be lower compared to the school his children currently attend. “But I know this will increase their difficulties, they have friends there and are doing well with the existing lot of teachers,” he shared sadly.

If life is difficult for those who have jobs or at least some sort of formal or informal low-paying job, it is harsh for someone who is unemployed.

Fakhra, name changed for privacy reasons, has been unemployed for the past few months. She rents out a small one room place in a white-collar neighbourhood of Lahore. Rising rents, increase in prices of basic commodities and sky-rocketing fuel prices have broken her back. “I am unemployed since January, and applying for jobs is a dead-end because, with a price hike no employer is willing to pay more, this huge economic exploitation is weighing on the backs of the middle working-class citizens who cannot even afford basic needs. The word affordability is far from our books,” she said.

“As a taxpayer, I want to ask what my fault in all this is. I am in literal terms living on bread and butter,” Fakhra said, reminding that despite being a taxpayer and paying her employees age old benefits, she was on her own.

Since there are hardly any social safety nets in our country, one has to often depend on loans from family or friends to survive when unemployed.

Commuting to work has also become a burden for those who travel long distances. In the absence of cheap and reliable mass transit, most people from the lower income strata depend on whatever dilapidated public transport is available, including chingchis and mini buses. Those from the middle income group, especially women had started using Careem, Uber, InDriver and Swvl for daily mobility. However, complains about rising costs of transportation have been increasing massively.

According to PBS data, hi-speed diesel (HSD) now stands at Rs264.17/litre, up from Rs204.93/litre last week, and Rs113.57/litre during the same period last year. Petrol stands at Rs234.71/litre, up from Rs210.63/litre last week, and Rs111.68/litre last year.

Since the coalition government took power, diesel price has surged by 82 percent, with petrol price up 56 percent. During the week ended April 7, 2022, only three days before former prime minister Imran Khan lost the vote of no confidence, petrol was Rs150.63 and diesel was Rs144.9.

This huge change in fuel costs has hit all and sundry.

Ambreen, who used InDriver to go to Do Talwar every day, said she could barely meet her traveling expenses now. “I spend almost 40 percent of what I earn on transportation, which leaves very little for other things. I feel that traveling to my workplace is no longer feasible or me,” she shared while explaining that she ends up paying almost Rs1,200-Rs1,500 in a day traveling to and from work.

While Ambreen uses ride hailing apps, and works at a corporate, Suleman Khan, name changed for privacy reasons, works at a bank. He travels in his private car. Suleman said his monthly fuel expenditure was now Rs30,000.

“When petrol was Rs150/litre, I spent Rs4,500 to fill up the tank; when it surged to Rs180/litre, I paid almost Rs5,500 and now with petrol price at Rs234/litre, it costs me Rs6,000 to fill up only half the tank,” he shared, pointing out that a half tank was only sufficient for 4 days, as he travels 27km one way.

Salaried people, particularly those with stagnant wages and those associated with informal work have had it tough for a long time. They remain the most affected every time prices go up. This inequality is also the major reason behind low human development in Pakistan.

Inequality has been common knowledge for a long time, but the Covid-19 pandemic and its outfall has exaggerated this global crisis with supply chain disruptions, price hikes and deficits. In order to fix the current mess, it is necessary to come up with better policies that address income and wealth inequalities in the long run. Any short-term measures in this regard would not bring about sustainable development or growth, especially if those measures are not human-centric.

– The writer is a staff member