Saturday September 18, 2021

No letup in sight

LAHORE: Given the weakening rupee and increasing global crude oil prices inflation in Pakistan is likely to remain on the higher side in the days ahead.

Inflation is an implicit tax on the poor that have to pay high prices for almost all daily use items without any increase in their incomes. The inequalities in the society have reached a stage where the poor have to compromise even on necessary daily expenses.

When providing even two square meals a day is not possible they have to face the trauma of being unable to buy even small gifts for their children. Our cities are planned in such a way that slums exist at the periphery of posh localities. The slums provide cheap housemaids, chefs or gardeners, for the residents of posh residences. The contrast in lifestyle brings more pain to poor workers.

The civil society should play its role in mitigating the woes of the poor during inflationary periods. The poor do not have the capability to face further price hikes because of inflation. Well-to-do families should sponsor the school education of one poor child per family. Others should supplement their food rations.

High contrasting lifestyle is visible in every city of the country. The poor do not earn enough to even to feed the family and they are left with no resources to take care of other needs like education, health, and clothing. The rich on the other hand could afford to lunch and dine in five star hotels, buy branded clothes, branded imported shoes, get their children educated in local schools charging a fee in dollars and get treatment at the most expensive clinics in Pakistan or abroad.

This contrast has become more pronounced during the last 15 years as those that managed decent nutrition earlier are now forced to cut their food expenses despite spending 60-80 percent of their income on food. The food inflation has devastated them. They live in constant pain as now they are unable to fulfill even small desires of their children or other dear ones.

In the past the poor were adequately accommodated during the religious festivals like eids or fasting month of Ramazan. In recent years these festivities bring an opportunity for the speculators, manipulators and hoarders to make more money. The ability of the poor to procure food and other commodities further diminishes. In the past two years the increase in wheat flour rates, sugar and edible oil prices has devastated the poor. They have been left at the mercy of market forces. There are no chances of taming inflation.

The poorest of the poor that account for almost one third of the population look towards the rich for alms. The dilemma with the philanthropic work in Pakistan is that the rich do not make efforts to find and help deserving families.

They rather wait for the poor to call them at their residences from where they distribute the aid. At best they depute their men to distribute food ration in the slums. They do not have any statistics of the poor living in that locality. They distribute ration on a ‘first come first served’ basis. Some poor depute all the family members at the distribution point and run away with five or six ration packs, while those that feel shy or humiliated in coming forward remain totally deprived of any help.

This is against the spirit of giving. The donors must respect the dignity of the recipients. Merely parting with a large sum of money for distribution to the poor is not enough. The donors must ensure the aid goes to the deserving subtly without the fanfare we see at the time of distribution of ration or other gifts to the poor. A survey of any specific locality would not consume much time. The ration and gifts then should be provided at the doorstep of the poor in a respectable manner. This will eliminate professional beggars.

True philanthropic spirit is being demonstrated by the middle class families only that make efforts to find deserving families. The rich made no effort to reach out to the poor.

The percentage of middle class families in our society has declined appreciably after the constant economic meltdown that is still on for middle income groups. Many of these families are struggling hard to make the two ends meet. Despite that the middle class families did make an effort to reach out to the poor individually and provide them help without hurting their dignity.

The richer segment of society that accounts for hardly 3 percent of the population on the other hand still provides help mostly to those that reach their doorstep and beg for help. This has mostly benefited professional beggars. This way some undeserving persons get help from scores of rich families, while those that are reluctant to compromise on their dignity remain deprived.