Social security allocation has been increased both as a percentage of GDP and its size while some new projects have been taken on. But the amount is negligible compared to the number of poor people in the country.
In fact, many of the allocations in the social security sector do not benefit the real poor. A quarter of the total social security has been allocated for pensions and allowances of government employees.
Apart from the interest on savings certificates bought by the government, various types of interest waivers amounting to around Tk10,000 crore are being considered part of social security. But how many poor people have savings certificates? How many poor people are unable to pay interest on loans? Excluding the allocation for the rich, the net allocation for social security is very low.
Government employees' pensions as well as savings certificates and interest should never be part of social security. It is very sad and even after we have said it again and again, it has not changed.
Also, the social security sector should be universal. If it is universal, it is part of the government's plan and there is an allocation for everyone.
If there is universal social security, those who live below the extreme poverty line and those who are extreme poor will not slip into severe crisis if struck by a disaster. They will have protection. If they have that, we can deal with such disasters and now is the time to think about it.
In the current context, social security allocation should have been expanded a lot. Many lost their jobs and became poor during the pandemic last year. Although there are some signs of job recovery, income has not bounced back accordingly.
In the meantime, the number of new poor has risen because of the second wave of the pandemic. But there is almost nothing in the budget for these new poor.
The 2015-16 National Social Security Strategy was supposed to bring three crore poor people under social security. But the implementation of this decision is not reflected in the budget.
The list of people eligible for social security remains flawed as well. Those supposed to be on the list are not. But those who do not need this assistance are including themselves in the list with the help of influential people.
There are also many on the list who are not receiving the due assistance. They have to struggle a lot to get that. With such a flawed list, the allocation we are making is not being utilised properly. It is important to look into that as well.
Our social security programmes tend to be village-centric. But we see a gradual increase in urban poverty as well. During the pandemic, city dwellers became so poor that they moved to villages.
Those facing this urban poverty should have been included in the list of the urban poor. The list is not complete yet. Drawing up the list should be inclusive. The administration will play a key role here. The list will be more transparent if stakeholders outside the administration as well as development partners, private development organisations, local organisations, and dignitaries are involved in the process.
Waiving the interest to be borne by small entrepreneurs has been included in social security. In the current context, entrepreneurs need interest waivers, but this should not come from the allocation for the extreme poor.
The government may make a separate allocation in the budget for small entrepreneurs' interest waivers, but that should not come from social security.
Dr Fahmida Khatun is the executive director of CPD