With pensions for retired public employees and interests for savings tools included in the slightly-higher social safety net allocation, the proposed budget for the fiscal 2021-22 does not mention any specific support for the population who slipped into poverty during the pandemic, said speakers.
With a higher allocation, the social safety net programmes aim at covering 14 lakh poor though at least 2.5 crore people became poor in the pandemic, they told a webinar titled "Budget 2021-22: Lives and Livelihoods during the Pandemic" organised by the Right to Food, Bangladesh on Wednesday.
In the keynote paper, Dhaka University economics teacher Prof Sayema Haque Bidisha said more than 24% of the population were already below the poverty line in the 2016 household survey. People who live around the threshold slip into poverty during a disaster.
"The risk-of-poverty has increased in the informal sectors, especially exposing the urban poor. A survey suggests around 9-10% people are now suffering from food poverty," she noted.
Prof Bidisha the pandemic put the access to food of the low-income people in a substantial risk as many of them lost their jobs during the virus-led crises. The per capita allocation does not increase though the social safety net budget gets bigger.
She suggested charting out the budget spending aimed at improving the livelihood.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), believes the budget allocations need restructuring.
"Allocations for many social safety net sub-sectors are reduced while the small enterprises also do not get adequate fiscal support," he said, commenting on the proposed budget, and termed the fiscal measures "barriers to self-employment" to ride out of poverty.
"The budget could trim allocations for the fast-truck projects and put it for the virus-hit life and livelihood," the CPD research director added.
He requested the government to widen the coverage of the open market sale (OMS) programme, step up imports to stabilise food prices, prepare an occupation-based database and readjust the fiscal support accordingly.
As the chief guest to the programme, Planning Minister MA Mannan claimed the proposed budget emphasised poverty alleviation and justice as it reflects on the demands of the citizens.
"However, the social safety programmes need to be streamlined considering the quality of life. Proper implementation of a programme requires a specific database of the beneficiaries. Adequacy of information is very important at this time," he added.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman of Right to Food and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), said, "The already fragile economy will not recover if we fail to support the marginalised people to move forward. The rural economy will collapse."
To ease the virus crises, the speakers called for establishing a digital database of the poor, inclusion of the new poor to the social safety net, exclusion of pensions and savings certificates interest from social safety allocation, incentives for small and medium enterprises, bringing marginalised people to the labour market, increasing the OMS coverage, and adopting a plan to maintain price stability.