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Saturday November 27, 2021

Traumatised and hopeless

October 26, 2021

LAHORE: No one expected this government to resolve all economic problems but the poor, particularly the youth, were convinced that life would be better and government policies would offer equal opportunities. Three years on their hopes are shattered.

The number of poor is increasing and their ability to buy even food has halved. Families facing poverty for generations have a desire to move from material poverty to adequate assets and livelihoods and from isolation and poor infrastructure to access and services.

This government gave numerous concessions to trade and industry in the federal budget and afterwards. The poor were given lollipops of subsidised programmes that are inadequate and make them dependent on government dole outs.

The poor want a permanent solution to their isolation from the affluent society. Majority of the poor do not want small subsidies through Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) or Ehsaas and other programmes. Instead, they want jobs and skills for sustained income. There is a strong realisation that with government dole outs and no jobs they would continue to live in poverty.

Most of the economic planners unfortunately have never tasted the bitterness and hardship that is linked with poverty. They should visit the houses of the poor and count the number of holes. They should examine their utensils and the clothes that they wear.

They should spend a day with the poor with worn out clothes and see for themselves the other side of poverty that is humiliation they face from the affluent, the sense of being dependent on them and of being forced to accept rudeness, insults, and indifference when they seek help.

They will find jobless married youth thrown out by a mill in trouble. They would find the youth dependent on the income of an aged father who works as a daily wager. The skilled youth is also forced to operate as unskilled labourer, but wagers do not get engaged on a daily basis. The father son duo is unable to feed the family properly and educate the children.

A visit to any poor locality would reveal the same story in most of the households. The economic planners should keep the miseries of the poor in mind while formulating their policies.

The BISP support would not resolve their problem but proper employment of the youth is the only viable solution.

Jobs are waning. Job creation should be the priority of the economic planners. The subsidies that run over Rs1,000 billion should be diverted to reduce the cost of power for all industries on a long-term basis (as provided to export industries) to attract investors in the manufacturing sector.

Luxury should be heavily taxed. The road tax on luxury vehicles for instance should be three times higher than cars up to 1300cc.

Living in slums should be part of the training of the civil servants that get luxurious training at the Civil Services Academy. Only then they would realise that for a poor person everything is terrible — illness, humiliation, shame.

Despite being able-bodied they are cripples; they are afraid of everything. No one needs them. They are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.

Poverty eradication strategies are planned in the posh offices based on experiences in other countries. The planners have no idea about the ground realities in Pakistan.

The poor have to feed the family, provide shelter for them, educate the children and arrange medical cover for their elders. The education on paper is free in government schools, but studies have shown that even after years of schooling the students of many public schools remain illiterate because there is no accountability of the teachers.

The health facilities are also available for free to the poor in government hospitals and clinics but they have to waste the whole day at outdoor examination halls to get a minute or two of the medical officers. The medicine has to be purchased.

The solution to both problems is easy. It should be made compulsory for the children of government servants to go to public schools. The standard of education would go up. If the top bureaucrats and their families get themselves treated through the system used by the poor, the health facilities would improve.

Nobel laureate Sen has frequently argued that absolute poverty includes what Adam Smith called “the ability to go about without shame”. Poor people repeatedly face stress and anxiety and because they feel insecure and vulnerable.

They describe security as stability and continuity of livelihood, predictability of relationships, feeling safe and belonging to a social group. Security is peace of mind and the possibility to sleep relaxed.