Social Safety Net: Nothing specific for new poor

There is no specific programme mentioned in the budget for the urban poor who have been hit the hardest during the shutdown of the economy for over two months.

It was partly because of the failure in providing food to the people in desperate need that the government reopened businesses, although the coronavirus outbreak is showing no signs of slowing down.

The government allocated Tk 95,574 crore in the social safety net programmes, which is 16.83 percent of the entire budget and 3.01 percent of the GDP. The allocation was Tk 81,865 crore in last year’s revised budget.

“We have been increasing allocations in the social security sector every year to improve the poor people’s condition. By now, about one-fourth of the families in the country have been brought under the social security net programmes,” Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said in his budget speech for 2020-21.

Contacted, Economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said, “Due to the pandemic, the number of poor people in the urban areas has increased and they should be the beneficiaries of the social safety net programmes. Specific programmes are needed for the people who slipped into poverty during the shutdown.”

How the money allocated for the sector is distributed among the poor people determines the success of the social safety net programmes, said the adviser to a former caretaker government.

If civil pension spending is deducted from the social safety net, then the 2020-21 fiscal year’s allocation would be around 1.5 to 1.6 percent of total GDP, he said.

During the shutdown enforced on March 26, there were widespread reports of embezzlement of funds and hoarding of relief material meant for the poor.

Hundreds of people in different parts of the country demonstrated on the highways demanding food.

The new budget mentions that senior citizens in need in 100 of the upazilas hit the hardest by the pandemic will be brought under the old-age allowance scheme. It is expected that five lakh people will be the beneficiaries.

Besides, widows and divorced women in the 100 upazilas will be brought under the social safety net coverage. This is likely to add 3.5 lakh new beneficiaries to the coverage.

Tk 100 crore for the Rural Social Services Programme will be allocated to keep the rural economy moving after the pandemic, the minister said yesterday.

Mohsin Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Food Rights Network, said the allocation for social safety net programmes was not enough because the number of poor people has increased a lot.

“We demanded six percent of the GDP. It is insufficient and it will not meet the demands. How the new poor will be helped remains unclear,” Ali said.

The pandemic has shed light on the lack of food security of working-class people and brought to the fore the need to ensure transparency in delivery of the services, experts said. 

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