More inclusive approach needed to support extreme poor
Overall poverty in Bangladesh is increasing as the vulnerable non-poor have slipped below the upper poverty line due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study.
It also found erstwhile moderate poor had descended into extreme poverty as the crisis had left many without jobs and reduced incomes.
Such groups plus the pre-existing moderate poor were increasingly compelled to focus on their own precarious livelihoods, thus paying less attention to others, undermining social cohesion, the study said.
The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and the University of Bath of the UK conducted the study, which was commissioned by the Bangladesh Planning Commission.
Planning Minister MA Mannan launched the study report titled "Extreme Poverty: The Challenges of Inclusion in Bangladesh" at the conference room of the National Economic Council in Dhaka yesterday.
Speaking at the event, Mannan said the impact of Covid-19 was lower this year compared to the previous year.
"The poverty had been there for a long time, and it still remains, but we have reduce it significantly."
He hopes the pandemic's impact on the economy, health and other sectors would peter out gradually.
As Covid-19 has exacerbated extreme poverty, the government needed to thoroughly consider the likely impact on the health and the economy while implementing its 8th five-year plan, the study said.
It found that poverty is unequally distributed geographically, with the eastern districts generally considered better off than those in the northern and western regions in terms of per capita income distribution.
But the picture changes when a multi-dimensional poverty index—education, literacy, malnutrition, child stunting—is used, alongside intersectionality with gender and ethnicity.
The concentration of extreme poverty then shifted more to North, North-West, South-West and southern parts of the country.
The study recommended the government go beyond the East/West narrative of poverty and focus on extreme poverty pockets as each area presented distinct political-economic challenges.
It called for universal policies to target all extremely poor families with child benefit programme, primary and secondary school stipends, and disability benefits.
"Monthly stipends for primary school students should be at least quadrupled to Tk 400 as the benefit can reach millions without any hassles," said Hossain Zillur Rahman, a former adviser to a caretaker government.
"It can help the families overcome the economic downturn caused by the pandemic."
Tk 100 has been given to each primary-level student since 2003, when the social safety net programme was introduced.
Prof Shamsul Alam, state minister for planning, said: "Based on the findings of the study, we have taken measures to reduce poverty in the 15 districts where the poverty rate is high."
The study finds a higher number of extreme poor in Kurigram, Bandarban and Dinajpur, while the rate of extreme poverty is very low in Narayanganj, Madaripur and Munshiganj.
Binayak Sen, director-general of the BIDS, said: "It is high time to implement universal pension benefits for all old age people as they belong to a very vulnerable group."
He recommended making the disability benefit universal.
The study proposed the creation of a social worker cadre responsible for supporting extremely poor families.
It said many ongoing questions remained unanswered by the present data set, and it required more surveys and analysis beyond those conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics for a more inclusive picture.
It recommended a task force for the eradication of extreme poverty within the planning commission.