“Poverty is the mother of all evils.”
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom” Nelson Mandela
Poverty is the biggest problem in Pakistan right now as most of the other problems stem from this.
According to World Bank Organization, “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear of future, living one day at a time. Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often poverty is a situation people want to escape. So, poverty is a call to action—-for poor and wealthy alike—-a call to change the world so that many more have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”
We know that poverty is even much more than this. Poverty has a direct relationship with the health indicators. Poverty literally kills. Life expectancy is lower and Maternal, infant and under five mortality rates, are all higher in lower socioeconomic groups. Not only mortality but also morbidity (state of poor health) is higher in this group which is due to multiple complex factor like lack of education or inability to pay for healthcare or access to healthcare or poor nutrition. Poor health is directly related to performance in school or job. Thus, there is a vicious cycle perpetuating ignorance and poverty which is difficult to break. It is not only the physical health that is affected but the poor are also victims of mental health problems. Depression, anxiety, stress and emotional instability is more common in the poor segments of society resulting in suicide, killing or selling of children, domestic abuse, family feuds etc.
Poverty is also linked with crime. When people are poor and have difficulty coping with daily life’s problems, they become desperate, angry and frustrated and thus try to use all means to either fulfil their needs or to get back at the society and system. Theft, lying, unscrupulous means of business, and even murder are more common in poverty ridden areas. Thus, jails are full of poor people.
Poverty leads to marginalization of the poor from the political process. Poor are given the right to vote and theoretically, even the right to contest elections, but in practice this is not possible as the current system of democracy requires money for that. Thus, they are neither present nor properly represented when crucial decisions are made like making national budget, allocation of funds for various services, policies regarding jobs, energy, youth, women etc.
Another aspect of poverty is its relationship to extreme views about society which promotes terrorism and violence. Even if poverty does not cause terrorism directly, it provides a fertile ground for those who want to promote terrorism for their own agenda. With economic recession since 2008, this phenomenon is increasing worldwide. We have seen rise of extreme ideologies, racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in the USA as well as in many European countries.
Last but not the least, poor are also socially isolated. They cannot afford entertainment, enjoy art and culture, go to movies, cafes, vacations, or travel. This directly impacts their world view and results in lack of broadening of vision due to lack of exposure to other views, cultures, life s etc. They have no respect in the society, are looked down upon and thus lack self confidence. It also erodes their self-respect. The emphasis on charity in the society creates beggar mindset and dependency.
Poverty is a complex and multidimensional problem which impacts not just individuals but nations and its effects last through generations. Unless this is addressed no other problem can be solved adequately and permanently. This is why the United Nations objective of achieving Millennium Development Goals failed and the same fate awaits the Sustainable Development Goals.
Current State of poverty in Pakistan
In order to assess the level and extent of poverty we need some criteria. The following text is taken from Pakistan’s first ever official report on multidimensional poverty by the Ministry of Planning, launched in Islamabad on 20 June 2016.
“Development and Reform Pakistan has historically used the Food Energy Intake (FEI) method for poverty measurement. Using this methodology and the poverty line of Rs 2,259.4 per adult per month poverty in Pakistan declined from 29.3 percent in 1998-99 to 9.3 percent in 2013-14. The methodology was changed in 2016 to Cost of Basic Needs (CBN) and poverty line was revised to Rs 3030.32 per adult per month. According to this new methodology the poverty has dropped from 57.9 percent to 29.5 percent between 1998-99 and 2013-14. Now Pakistan has switched over to Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which captures the severe deprivation that each person experiences with respect to education, health and standard of living.”
We have serious concerns about the criteria, methodology, measuring and tracking poverty in this manner. Salient features of this report are:
Nearly 39 per cent Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty
Highest poverty rates are in FATA (73%) and Baluchistan (71%)
MPI shows a decline from 55% to 39% from 2004 to 2015
There is a huge urban rural divide with poverty level being 9.3% in urban and 54.6% in rural areas.
Disparities across provinces is another problem. 73% of people in FATA and 71% in Baluchistan live in multidisciplinary poverty. It is 49% in KPK, 43% in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan, 43% in Punjab and 25% in AJK.
Then there are differences among districts. Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore have less than 10% while in Qila Abdulah, Harnai and Barkan (all in Baluchistan) have more than 90% of poverty.
Deprivation in education contributes 43%, standard of living 32% and healthcare 26% to poverty.
We have several objections to this report. The fundamental flaw in this whole narrative about poverty index is that it is based on flawed indicators. Criteria used are not only unfair but inhumane. Those who develop these criteria should be willing to live with this before submitting the poor to this barbarism
Changing criteria also gives the ruling class an opportunity to manipulate numbers and show the success of their strategies.
We also question the method of determining access to schools, healthcare and standard of living. What kind of education or healthcare is enough to qualify it as being above the cut off level? Will those who devise these criteria be willing to accept the standard of living criteria used in the report, for their own families?
According to this report the level of Multidiscipline Poverty Index in major urban centres of country is less than 10%. We can’t believe this. Those who live in these urban centres, know there is a large majority of people who may seem OK but don’t have enough to eat three decent meals or cannot afford to see a doctor or buy medicines. These people are living at the edge. Any emergency or unexpected expense pushes them into either beggary or debt. This includes household servants and other large number of workers in the undocumented economic sphere.
We believe that the poverty criteria should take into account all the deprivations including opportunities to travel, entertainment, justice, participation in the political process etc.
Causes of poverty
While the World Bank Organization, United Nations Foundation and other such institutions realize the impact of poverty on human life and society, they don’t offer a solid plan to eliminate poverty other than “trickle down” economy, promoting some low skilled jobs, offering microcredit so people can barely make it or offer some social benefits to the poor and other such superficial measures. Poverty is a complex phenomenon but the single most underlying cause of poverty is uneven distribution of wealth. This has been realized and admitted by leading economists of the day. The uneven distribution of wealth starts when we accept the fact that a few have the right to control natural and manmade resources. This gives upper hand to them and their future generations and makes it harder if not impossible for the rest to compete with them.
Most of economists and social scientists agree that inequality of wealth distribution is the primary cause for this. However, most of them believe that the solution is redistribution of wealth like increasing taxes on the rich and using them to provide social services and other benefits to the poor. We have major ideological disagreement with this solution. By promoting this solution, we are maintaining the inequality, promoting welfare culture and keeping the poor still dependant upon the rich. We have also seen that this solution is difficult to implement because those who control wealth also control policy making and thus are always resisting and finding excuses to avoid this. And even if policies are made, they are difficult to implement and there are enough loop holes left in the system where tax evasion becomes possible and is difficult to challenge even in the court. This has been proven in the recent example of Panama Leaks and the fact that up till now no one has been convicted of corruption and tax evasion in Pakistan. And even if they are forced to implement these policies due to grassroots pressure, they are always looking for an opportunity to withdraw them. We have seen this recently happening worldwide under the name of austerity measures or Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the international financial institutions and consists of withdrawal of social benefits, privatization of state institutions as well as many life necessities like education, healthcare, transport and even water.
There are other causes which are again related to uneven distribution of wealth like unemployment, poor governance, lack of education and skills etc.
Thus, in order to address poverty, we need to make some structural changes in the economic system and distribution of wealth generating resources like lands, industry, financial institutions and in spending patterns and setting up our national priorities.
We propose the following measures to counter the poverty and move towards a more egalitarian society. Other economic issues will be dealt with in the economy section.
Goals for poverty eradication program
- Ultimate goal for this and all other programs is to achieve our mission of equality of right over resources and need based equitable distribution of wealth.
- Our immediate and urgent objective is access of all citizens to quality education, healthcare, housing, transport, information technology, travel and leisure time.
- All citizens have opportunity to pursue their interests and career choices
- Eliminate rural urban divide
- Eliminate gender divide and discriminatoin
- Focus on young people so we don’t lose another generation to the evils of poverty
- By eliminating poverty we aim to also eliminate child labor, bonded labor, prostitution, petty crimes and human trafficking
- Eliminating poverty will help improve people’s health, restore their self respect and enhance their self confidence.
Poverty is linked with economic structure. As we change economic structure according to our program outlined in economy section, we will reduce and then eradicate poverty. The most important factor that will determine our success or failure is whether masses are with us and support our programs because those who are benefitting from the current system will try their utmost to sabotage this.
As we mentioned earlier the real and sustainable solution for poverty is to change the resource control and distribution patterns.
We propose the following measures to counter the poverty and move towards a more egalitarian society. Since poverty is related to many other sectors of economy, our program in each sector will be designed to ultimately lead us towards our goals.
- Instead of minimum wage concept, we should move towards living income concept, ultimately moving towards prosperity for all. This means the state should guarantee a minimum income for all citizens who are working or are able to work but can’t find jobs. This should be enough for people to live a decent life with dignity. The income level should increase annually according to the cost of living.
- This minimum income is adequate for the time being in conjunction with free education and healthcare and guaranteed housing and public transport either free or at greatly subsidised cost.
- Unemployment is a major cause of poverty. State is responsible for ensuring adequate jobs to all who are able and willing to work or give unemployment benefits if that cannot be done.
- Employment opportunities can be generated through various development programs like infrastructure, educational facilities and setting up industries, agricultural farms, energy producing and other such projects.
- Mismanagement of agricultural land is a major cause of poverty in rural area. We propose that land should be treated as a national asset to be used for public good rather than as a commodity to be bought and sold for profit. There should be a limit on the size of land holding for agricultural purposes. All extra land should be taken over by state and used to set up farms where people can be employed, and food rather than cash crops is grown to ensure food security. This issue will be dealt with in detail in the agricultural and urban land/Housing section
- Internal and external debt is another cause which forces redirecting the available funds into debt servicing rather than development projects and social services. We propose to use several methods to move towards self-sufficiency in order to reduce that burden now and avoid it in future. This is further discussed in the section on Economy.
- Education is supposed to be a great equalizer but privatization of education has made quality education out of reach for the poor. Thus, all good job opportunities are inaccessible to them. State is responsible to provide free quality education to all. This will help the poor compete in the job market and move up the ladder as far as the income level is concerned. The education system will be aligned with job market. Skill training programs will be developed for those who cannot or don’t want to avail higher education or have missed that opportunity under current system.
- Tax system needs a major restructuring so that burden of indirect taxes is greatly reduced on the poor and the super rich need to be taxed at a special higher rate. All loop holes for tax evasion need to be plugged.
- Pakistan has a young and growing population. Its energies and talent has not been channeled in productive direction. Many parties and governments have paid lip service to youth’s needs but have done nothing practically. There is an urgent need to focus on developing their skills to be able to compete in the global job market.
- There are other economic measure that can be taken in order to generate resources for provision of public services. They will be discussed under section about economy.