• Monday, Jan 17, 2022
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‘Prioritize social protection in economic support, not growth’

  • Published at 10:03 pm June 19th, 2021
aid to poor-food -poverty-mehedi hasan dt
A woman is standing with her child in her one hand and aid in her another hand Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

A decent society must ensure livelihoods, universal social security, self-empowerment, political freedom, and social inclusion, say economists

To transition from a virus-driven disastrous Bangladesh to a decent one, there is a need to explore how effective the existing system of society is in creating self-reliance and ensuring universal social security, say economists.

The country also needs to explore what steps are being taken to reduce inequality, the progress being made in empowering different classes, whether authoritarian regimes run an economy, and if political and social freedom is being ensured.

Speakers made the remarks during the final episode of a series of webinars on Decent Society based on Abul Barkat's book titled “In search of a transition from the virus-driven great disaster to a decent Bangladesh: On the larger canvas of society-economy-state.”

The Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA) organized the webinar on Saturday, moderated by its Vice-President ZM Saleh. 

Rizwanul Islam, the former special adviser of the Employment Sector at the International Labour Organization (ILO), and Prof SR Osmani, of Development Economics at the University of Ulster, United Kingdom, were the panelist speakers on the occasion.

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A decent society must ensure livelihoods, universal social security, self-empowerment, political freedom, and social inclusion, said Rizwanul Islam.

Osmani explained that in response to Covid-19, although the government had taken fiscal measures in the form of the stimulus package to provide growth-oriented economic support, it lacked protection-oriented economic support that focuses on social security as well as inclusion.

Pointing out to several independent studies done by SANEM, OXFAM, BIGD/PPRC, he stated that although the studies’ methodology can be questioned, the common conclusion by the studies needs to be understood.

A survey carried out between June 20 and July 2 last year by BIGD/PPRC concluded that more than 60% of the poor and low-income population who suffered income losses because of the Covid-19-induced downturn did not receive any support from the public and private sectors. 

Only 39% of households got some assistance between April and June, but it amounted to a paltry 4% of their lost income, the study found. 

In an earlier survey of the same set of households, it was found that they had lost up to 80% of their income immediately after the lockdown. 

Suppose the support provided by the government helped recover a meager 4% of lost income. In that case, it is hard to imagine how the marginalized groups could have avoided a shortage of food because of these programs, as claimed by the Ministry of Finance, it concluded.

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According to a study by SANEM, the situation did not improve even six months after the lockdown was relaxed in May-June, according to a large-scale sample survey carried out during November and December 2020. 

Compared to the benchmark of 2018, the poverty rate was as high as 42% compared to the benchmark of 21.6%, and extreme poverty to be 28.5% compared to the benchmark of 9.4%.

Meanwhile, expenditure, especially non-food expenditure, fell sharply in 2020. The extreme poor lowered their expenditure on non-food items by as much as 63%, in addition to cutting down spending on food by 30%, while expenditure on education was sacrificed across all income strata.

Speakers at the event underscored the importance of considering political economy — which vastly shapes the economic frameworks — in assessing development induced by any administration and its socio-economic and political views.

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