Digital database key to safety net for poor
Building a digital database of the poor is crucial for bringing the new and urban poor under social safety net programmes as the pandemic pushed many people, especially those in urban areas, into poverty, an economics professor told a webinar yesterday.
Regular data availability, including sex disaggregated, should be ensured, said Sayema Haque Bidisha, a professor of the department of economics at the University of Dhaka.
In order to build an inclusive database and identify those in the informal sector, the government should work with NGOs and local representatives and business owners, she said. "More programmes along with greater allocation is needed for the urban poor, especially those in urban slums," she added.
She was presenting a paper on poverty, right to food and employment marking the announcement of the national budget at an event titled "Budget 2021-22: Life and Livelihood of Poor People", organised by the Right to Food Bangladesh.
Safety net programmes must be planned and centred towards the broad objective of employment generation of those at the bottom of the distribution, said Prof Bidisha.
Unemployment benefits, even for a short period of time, can have important implications -- it can help the unemployed and also boost demand, she added.
She also stressed for a detailed roadmap on employment generation.
For maintaining stability of prices, greater monitoring and rationing in the short term while establishing a price commission in the long-term are needed, Bidisha added.
Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, a professor of the department of development studies at the same university, said the pandemic has dealt a mighty blow to the life and livelihood of people, resulting in a poverty rate rise of the level seen three decades ago.
"The lack of precise planning and proper measures increases poverty in any disaster. The lack of a national household survey-based database, the assistance does not reach the right population," he said.
He said although the allocation for social security programmes has been increased in this year's budget, the per capita allocation has decreased.
"Allocations to the social safety net programmes were most needed for the security of life and livelihood," he said.
He said social safety net programmes' allocations have increased by 13 per cent year-on-year and 14 lakh new people have been brought under it in the budget.
However, it is insufficient for two-and-a-half crore new poor, including the urban poor. In addition, most of the allocated money will be spent on providing pensions, interest on savings certificates, etc., to government employees.
Citing a government report, he said 46 per cent of the beneficiaries received social safety net benefits even though they were not eligible. Due to a lack of a proper database of population and irregularities, many eligible people are being excluded from these programmes, he said.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said allocations were reduced in 14 sub-sectors of social safety net programmes, where allocation could have been increased easily.
Some fast-track projects got safety allocations, which should not get so much importance considering immediate demand, he added.
For example, the Rooppur nuclear power plant project, which is definitely an important project, was allocated Tk 18,400 under the annual development programme, he said.
"But, we don't have the demand of using the electricity generated from the plant right now. We are now only using 52 per cent of the total electricity generated and the remaining 48 per cent remains unutilised. So, how will we use the electricity that will be generated from the plant," he added.
In the current situation, there is a need to increase open market sale (OMS) programmes to ensure food rights of the poor, increase imports of products to stabilise the food market, and create a database of occupational poverty, he said.
Planning Minister MA Mannan said information and data were under his ministry. "We have inherited some systems which we are trying to improve. I believe it's important to disseminate information more timely," he said.
"Poverty and justice have been given priority in this year's budget, which reflects the needs of the people," he said.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, said the economy of the country, which was not stable, would not recover if people who fell behind could not be helped to move forward.
Mohsin Ali, general secretary to the Right to Food Bangladesh, moderated the event.