Absolute poverty

Mansoor Ahmad
Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

LAHORE: Vulnerability is on the rise in Pakistan due to rapid depletion of family assets and resources. The inability to avail services like health and education is another vulnerability that is because of the incompetent government.

A new factor is susceptibility to the current economic depression. In normal circumstances, those who were unemployed were vulnerable to hunger, but after super inflation even the employed are equally vulnerable to hunger.

Pakistan is not a welfare state and it cannot be because the government operates on huge deficit due to high interest borrowing. The government simply does not have resources to provide meaningful relief to the vulnerable.

In welfare states the tax to GDP ratio is over 25 percent of the GDP. Concealing taxes is a crime in those societies. Our tax to GDP ratio hovers around 9 percent and tax evaders are not treated as criminals but respected members of the society.

Still governments do announce micro-mini measures that look like social welfare to hide their incompetence in providing the citizens a respectable life based on respect, merit and justice. These welfare measures are provided from loans that the recipients would be paying for generations. The mini-micro support provided through Benazir Income Support Programme has failed to lift any family out of poverty.

The amount spent in this regard has crossed Rs1.5 trillion in the last 17 years. The vulnerable families could have been moved from material poverty to adequate assets and livelihoods and from isolation and poor infrastructure to access and services had this amount been spent prudently.

Interaction with the poor reveals that the micro-amount that poor families get through BISP does not resolve their issues. Most want a steady job instead to ensure a regular income, which is at least equivalent to the minimum wage fixed by the state.

They want their children to be imparted with skills so that their next generation does not have to live in isolation from the affluent society

“Look at the house and count the number of holes. Look at my utensils and the clothes that I am wearing. Everything you see explains poverty which is humiliation, the sense of being dependent on them and of being forced to accept rudeness, insults, and indifference when we seek help,” said a poor laborer trying to get BISP support.

He said that the jobs are waning. “My son lost his job in a knitwear factory and currently he and his family are dependent on my income,” he said, adding that as a daily wager he misses work at least thrice a week.

He said BISP support would not resolve my problem. Re-employment of my son was the only viable solution. This he added cannot happen until the industries that have been closed restart.

“For a poor person everything is terrible — illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of,” said Gul Khan, a night watchman in Garhi Shahu.

He has crossed 60 and his health is deteriorating. He complains of not being able to obtain treatment from any government hospital. He said that he cannot afford to obtain treatment from private doctors. For him health is the main vulnerability that threatens his job.

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