Published in News Today on Monday, 24 August 2015.
Taking care of ‘missing middle’
Thanks to initiatives of the government, despite fund constraints, has initiated a number of social protection schemes in the country. Funds being allocated yearly for the vulnerable groups are not small. But there is no comprehensive survey yet as to how much money actually reaches the really vulnerable segment of the population.
There has been no substantial progress in poverty alleviation despite enough allocations for all the previous five-year plans. The misuse of government funds allocated for poverty alleviation and NGOs are responsible for this. The NGOs have also failed to bring effective results in this regard.
Even CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan had once regretted that allocations for poverty reduction are not utilised properly. If things go on like this then we’ll not be able to say bye to poverty.
Majority of those who were not poor had turned poor due to natural calamities, medical expenses and for many other reasons. Irregularities are there in determining who are poor or who are not. Extra allocation will not help if transparency is not ensured in this regard. Even in international rating, Bangladesh has not fared well. The country came in 28th out of the 35 Asian countries surveyed for its provision of social protection for its poor and vulnerable citizens. The neighbouring Nepal, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan fared better in the Social Protection Index (SPI) of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The ranking is based on the availability of social insurance, social assistance such as cash or in-kind transfers, child welfare, assistance to the elderly and disabled, and labour market programmes such as skills development and training. The failure to support large numbers of poor and vulnerable people in many of these fast-growing middle-income countries in Asia and the Pacific is leaving them exposed to risks and unexpected difficulties like unemployment, ill health and natural disasters.
There are many vulnerable groups, including women and informal sector workers, who can’t access unemployment, health or other social insurance but are also not poor enough to be eligible for social assistance such as cash transfers.
It is high time that the government social protection programmes are expanded to cover this unprotected ‘missing middle,’ a demographic which stands the chance of falling into poverty if an economic, environmental, or health shock of some kind takes place.