The poverty situation in Bangladesh has deteriorated due to the adverse impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The poverty rate is likely to rise to 35-40 percent from the existing 20.4 percent.
But nothing has been mentioned in the proposed budget about providing protection to "new poor" people, noted speakers at a discussion on Wednesday.
They were addressing an online discussion, titled "The 2020-21 budget and social safety net programmes", organised by Khaddo Oddhikar Bangladesh.
Apart from increasing the number of beneficiaries in allowances for older people, widows and persons with disabilities, there is nothing for the urban poor and new poor people in the budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, the discussants said.
Besides, there is no planning and allocation for selecting actual beneficiaries and making a database for them, they added.
The keynote paper presented at the webinar noted that according to the budget proposal, elderly people in 100 most poverty-ridden upazilas will be brought under old-age allowance. This will add 5 lakh new beneficiaries. In the same way, 3.5 lakh more widows and women abandoned by their husbands will come under the coverage of the existing allowance programme for women.
The number of beneficiaries of the allowance for insolvent persons with disabilities will be increased to 18 lakh from 2.55 lakh. Some Tk739 crore more has been allocated for the three programmes. Thus, the number of beneficiaries as well as the allocation has gone up in the proposed budget, the keynote paper adds.
On the other hand, a large number of poor people living in urban areas have become jobless due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the seven programmes running under the social safety net for the urban poor received only 1 percent of the total allocation for the sector.
Moreover, the allocation for the sector and its activities cannot be known clearly owing to not separating sub-sectors such as pension for retired government employees and their families, grants for families of government employees who die in the line of duty, and honoraria for freedom fighters.
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said pensions for government employees, interest payment on savings certificates, a share of expatriates' income, a portion of private banks' interests in the time of pandemic, etc., have been included in the additional allocation of Tk14,000 crore for the social safety net.
But the question arises as to how these measures can be called "protection", she added.
Dr Kazi Khaliquzzaman, chairman of Khaddo Oddhikar Bangladesh and Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, said although the headline of the budget was about safeguarding livelihoods of people, it focused mainly on GDP growth as always happens.
It is not possible to carry on with food relief for a long time, but it should continue for some more time. At present, job creation is a big challenge, which is not reflected in the budget, he added.
Dhaka University Professor Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha said there should have been a special allocation in the budget for slum dwellers living in cities and towns. The Tk100 crore allocation for the rural poor to create employment for them is very insufficient, and urban poverty in the budget has been neglected as well.