Living cost jumped 6.88% in 2020, highest in three years, whereas income of lower and lower-middle class people fell sharply in the throes of the pandemic, worsening their living standard, said Consumers' Association of Bangladesh (CAB).
Around the same time, prices of products and services rose 6.31%. The rising expenditures and the decline in income devastated lives of the middle-class, lower middle-class and the poor, it said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Like the previous years, the living expenditure was calculated, excluding the cost of education, healthcare and transport, said CAB President Golam Rahman.
CAB estimated the hike in expenses, considering 114 food items and 22 daily essentials available in 15 retail markets in the capital and 14 services.
In 2019, living cost grew by 6.50% and the prices of commodities and services went up by 6.08%.
Referring to the surge in rice price, Golam said the authority could not restrain the spiraling of the rice price even amid the Aman harvesting season. Compared to 2019, rice prices on average went up by 20% in 2020. The price hike was highest, more than 27%, for coarse rice that the low-income people subsist on.
Moreover, costs of lentils, spices, leafy vegetables, beef, mutton, fish, water supplied by Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA), house rents, and electricity spiked.
Referring to an estimate by the Planning Commission, Golam Rahman said the number of the poor had increased to 29%, which was 20.5% before the outbreak of Covid-19.
However, different research by private organisations put the figure at 40% or more than that. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics revealed that the monthly income of a family declined by Tk4,000 in the pandemic.
On costs of services, CAB said the government, pressurised by transport owners, had agreed on a 60% increase in the travel cost by buses to run with half of the seats vacant and health safety protocols in place amid the spread of the contagion.
Apart from all these, house rents for low- and middle-class people rose 5.35% on average. The increase in rents was highest for flats, 7.85%. Rents of slum dwellings and mess went up by 3.45%.
Prices of sarees and clothing materials also climbed up by 9%. Per thousand litres of water supplied by WASA costs 25% more than before, and electricity in households became 6.05% more costly.
Power supply to industries also became expensive.
Golam Rahman said many people had become poor or poorer due to Covid-19, whereas many rich people had become richer. Low and middle-class people bore the brunt of the rising living cost.
CAB demanded that the living standard of consumers, employment and safety of lives and livelihoods be protected. Alongside, it stressed the need for boosting production to ensure food security.