Around 13 lakh elderly poor, widows, deserted and destitute women of 150 poverty-prone upazilas will come under the government's social safety net programme as each of them will get Tk500 monthly allowance from July.
The inclusion in the social safety net will cost the government nearly Tk800 crore more.
Besides, monthly allowance for valiant freedom fighters will increase to Tk20,000 from Tk12,000 in the 2021-22 budget as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the allowance hike in February.
The allowance hike will cost the government around Tk150 crore.
Finance ministry officials said though the number of poor and jobless has jumped due to the coronavirus pandemic, the allocation for social safety net is not likely to increase substantially in the upcoming budget.
Finance Division officials are preparing the next national budget with Tk1,02,000 crore allowance for social safety – which is around Tk7,000 crore more than the current year.
Apart from this, numerous social safety programmes under the 2020-21 budget will also continue next year. In the next budget, there will be efforts to increase the number of the beneficiaries, but the amount of cash allowance to the elderly poor is unlikely to increase.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, told The Business Standard that the initiative to increase the number of social safety beneficiaries is positive, and it is also logical to increase the monthly allowance of the freedom fighters.
"But these conventional programmes are already underway. The upcoming budget should emphasise social safety responding to the virus fallout. The pandemic made many citizens jobless, letting them slip into poverty," added Ahsan H Mansur.
He argued that if the newly poor are not brought under the social safety net, it will not be possible to lift them above the poverty line.
The current fiscal year budget has Tk95,574 crore allocated for social safety. The allocation in the next budget may increase to Tk1,02,000 crore.
Generally, the number of social safety net beneficiaries is increased by 10% every year. A meeting chaired by the finance minister will soon decide on increasing the number of beneficiaries in the upcoming budget.
A Finance Division official who is involved in preparing the budget told TBS that there will be no separate programme in the budget to help the jobless and newly poor. Instead of separate allocation, they will be getting the Prime Minister's gifts, food and cash assistance.
The Prime Minister's Eid gifts as well as food and relief assistance are being provided to the victims of the ongoing lockdown in response to the Second Web.
'Like the current year, the upcoming budget will also have Tk10,000 crore allocation to deal with the pandemic situations. If there is a need for immediate assistance during the pandemic, it will be spent from the fund," added the official.
He said there are currently 123 social safety programmes ongoing under 30 ministries. Without implementing them separately, the programmes need to be brought under one umbrella. However, the next budget does not have the reforms required to do so.
According to the Ministry of Social Welfare, all the widow, deserted and destitute women of 112 poverty-prone upazilas have been covered under government allowance in the current fiscal year. Now around 20 lakh women including the widow, deserted and destitute are receiving the allowance – Tk500 per month.
If all such women of 150 upazilas are brought under the social safety programmes in the next year, the number of beneficiaries will increase to about 5 lakh.
Besides, elderly poor men above 65 years old and women above 62 years are getting the government elderly allowances. Under the programme, all the poor elderly people of 112 upazilas of the country are getting Tk500 allowance per month.
In the next fiscal year, all the poor elderly of 150 upazilas – around 8 lakh citizens – are likely to be included in the programme. About 49 lakh senior citizens are already getting the allowance in the current fiscal year.
Finance Secretary Abdur Rouf Talukder presented an outline of the next budget at the budget monitoring meeting Sunday. He said there were plans to expand the social safety programmes substantially in the next fiscal year.
After a cabinet committee meeting Wednesday, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal also told the reporters that the next budget will be dedicated for the poor.
The budget will be prepared with an utmost priority to the lives and livelihoods of the poor. The aim of the government is to alleviate poverty. We are taking steps to help the poor ride out the poverty line, he added.
Two non-governmental research institutes PPRC and BIGD said in a survey report last week that 2.45 crore people in the country had fallen below the poverty line during the pandemic and the debt of urban and rural people had almost doubled.
Govt to uniform freedom fighters' allowances
From the next fiscal year, valiant freedom fighters regardless of the gallantry titles will get equal monthly allowance. At a meeting of the Bangladesh Freedom Fighters Welfare Trust in February, the Prime Minister directed all freedom fighters to be given an equal allowance of Tk20,000.
At present, general freedom fighters get Tk12,000 per month while the family of a martyred freedom fighter gets Tk30,000. The family of a wounded freedom fighter gets Tk25,000, while Tk35,000 for Bir Sreshtho, Tk25,000 for Bir Uttam, Tk20,000 for Bir Bikram, and Tk15,000 for Bir Pratik.
At present, the number of valiant freedom fighters in the country is 186,408. In the current fiscal year, Tk3,865 crore has been allocated for the families of the martyred freedom. In the next year, the allocation may increase to about Tk4,000.