The government has increased the monthly allowance for older people from Tk100 to Tk500 in the past two decades. Similar social safety allowances for widows, disabled, etc have also been raised. But economists say the amount is rather insignificant considering the inflation.
Officials at the Ministry of Finance say the next budget will propose increasing the numbers of beneficiaries under the allowance programmes for the elderly, widows and the financially insolvent disabled – although the amount of monthly cash payment to the beneficiaries will stay the same.
In the current financial year, Tk95,574 crore has been allocated for the social security sector, of which the allocation for direct assistance to the real poor is very small.
The number of beneficiaries under the allowance programmes for the elderly, widows, poor mothers and working lactating mothers is 97.95 lakh but the amount of allocation for them is Tk6,227.55 crore – merely 6.5% of the total allocation.
According to finance ministry officials, all the elderlies and the widows of 150 upazilas and about 4 lakh new indigent people with disabilities are to be brought under the allowance schemes next year.
The allowance for freedom fighters of the country, however, is going to rise by two-thirds from Tk12,000 to Tk20,000 in the fiscal 2021-22, they added.
Introduced in 2001, the allowance for the valiant freedom fighters was Tk300 a month at the beginning.
Economists say there can be no comparison between the freedom fighters' allowance to the other allowance schemes under the government's social safety net but the money amount and number of beneficiaries under those schemes must be raised to a meaningful level.
The government introduced the old age allowance in the 1997-98 fiscal year to ensure socio-economic development and social security of the elderly, enhance their status in the family and society, strengthen their morale through financial assistance and increase their medical and nutritional supply.
The government introduced widow's allowance in the following year with the same goal.
The monthly allowances under these two schemes initially was Tk100, which were doubled eight years later and raised to Tk300 after three more years. For the last three years, the beneficiaries have been getting an allowance of Tk500 per month.
Economists are of the opinion that the benefits for the elderlies and widows have not increased proportionately with the rise in prices over the years.
They pointed out that the goods and services costing Tk100 two decades ago now cost Tk365. Even though the monthly allowance of Tk500 helps to some extent, the goals of these allowances are not being met fully.
On average, a person needed Tk1,862 every month to maintain a minimum standard of living in 2016, according to the lower poverty line survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
Now the amount has increased to Tk2,000 due to inflation. Tk500 is not enough for a person to survive, economists say.
Insolvent persons with disabilities were brought under the coverage of monthly allowances for the first time in the 2005-06 fiscal year. Initially, they were given an allowance of Tk200 per month, which has now been increased to Tk750.
One year after the introduction of the allowance for people with disabilities, the government introduced a maternity allowance for poor mothers, fixing the allowance at Tk300 initially. These mothers are now getting Tk800 per month.
Besides, the government started a monthly allowance of Tk350 to working lactating mothers 10 years ago. Currently, this allowance is Tk800.
The allowance amounts under all of these programmes may remain unchanged in the budget for the forthcoming financial year, finance ministry officials said.
In the current fiscal, Tk3,385.05 crore has been allocated as honorarium for about two lakh freedom fighters, which is 3.54% of the total allocation for social safety net.
The government introduced honorarium for the valiant freedom fighters in the 2001-2002 fiscal year. At the beginning, the monthly allowance was Tk300. Five years later, the amount was increased to Tk500.
In the following years, the allowance was gradually increased to stand at Tk5,000 per month in the 2014-15 fiscal. Three years later, it was doubled and later was increased to Tk12,000 last year.
In addition to the monthly honorarium and festival allowance, the valiant freedom fighters have been getting a Bangla New Year allowance of Tk2,000 since the 2018-19 financial year. All living freedom fighters receive an honorarium of Tk5,000 on Victory Day.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, told The Business Standard that the government has been generous in setting the honorarium for freedom fighters to which no one has any objection. "However, the Tk500 allowance for the disadvantaged poor is too small an amount."
He said the number of valiant freedom fighters receiving allowances is increasing every year.
"When this allowance was introduced in the 2001-02 fiscal year, 42,000 valiant freedom fighters received the money. From 2013-14 to the current financial year, their number has remained unchanged at 2 lakh.
"There are allegations that some are getting included in the freedom fighters' list in various ways to get this allowance and extend their tenure in government jobs. The government should identify the fake claimants and cancel their benefits to distribute the money among the beneficiaries in other sectors of the social safety net," he added.
Ahsan H Mansur also said that at present, a poor person can buy food for five days with the monthly allowance received by the elderly and widows. The amount and the scope of allowances must be increased, he observed.
Kazi Reazul Hoque, a veteran freedom fighter, former secretary and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, told The Business Standard, "The allowance for the valiant freedom fighters is an honorarium."
He said allowances for other backward sections of society, especially the elderly, need to be made more worthwhile by increasing the amount of money.
"The government has the capacity to increase the allowance under the social safety net. It will be very easy, if waste of money in public expenditure and corruption can be stopped.
"In addition, there is corruption in identifying the beneficiaries of the existing system. Overall, the social safety network needs to be redesigned into universal pension. The government can start it now as per its capacity, and its scope can be expanded in phases later," he concluded.