Twenty-five percent of the Pakistani population lives below the poverty line. This population predominantly consists of illiterate, daily wagers, unskilled or semi-skilled workers having no fixed assets or savings. Countrywide lockdown imposed by the provincial governments has left them without work. The unprecedented lockdown is impacting the lives of the poor in myriad ways. They have no work, no wages and no food to feed their families.
Either die from hunger or from coronavirus
Covid-19 has become a double-edged sword for the poor; either to die from coronavirus or from hunger. The accompanying lockdown has impaired rather than halted their ability to earn. Hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition can hurt us and our coming generations for decades, if not managed well.
Lockdown was inevitable due to the contagious nature of Covid-19 and the already overburdened health care system. But unplanned lockdown has proven to be devastating for the poorest segments in the society. According to the labor force survey, there are 20 million daily wagers in Pakistan, if every daily wager has five dependent family members, the lockdown will result in food insecurity for almost 50 percent population of Pakistan. Out of the 20 million daily wagers, 8 million are not employed in the agricultural sector and their income has reduced to zero. They need immediate support for food and other necessities.
Owing to the huge budget deficit, current account deficit, low tax collection and soaring local and foreign debt, government has neither the capacity nor has the mechanism for the provision of relief to the daily wagers. The political elite, businessmen and industrialists are working for their vested interest, so they have little part to play in this crisis.
Middle class should rise up to the occasion
Middle class constitutes 35% of Pakistan’s population and so they have an important role to play. If every middle-class family supports a poor family, we can successfully manage the long term effects of the lockdown. But, the question arises: Middle class itself finds it difficult to manage their finances due to stagnant income, inflation, and higher taxation, how will they be able to help the poor?
Most Middle class families employee housemaids. These housemaids represent the most deserving segment of the society. Unfortunately, wages paid to them are as low as 100 rupees per day or RS. 3000 per month. This amount is equal to a one-time bill of dining at a hotel or fast food outlet. If we can manage to skip a dinner outside, with the saved amount, we could double the salary of a housemaid. Do not give them charity give them their due right with dignity.
It is time to recheck our expenditures and monthly budget. We need to divert our spending from unnecessary luxury items to necessities for the poor. There are many things we can cut from our monthly home budget e.g we could save on electricity bill by not using air conditioner for the next two months. We could reduce our cell phone bill to minimal. We could cut our fuel bill by working from home. We could save amount on the maintenance of our motor vehicle. And lastly, we should stop using costly packed foods.
By implementing these austerity measures, we can easily save 6000 to 10000 rupees a month, an amount greater than the Government grant of Rs. 4000 per month per poor family, and protect a 6 to 10 persons family from hunger and malnutrition. Such acts of brotherhood and self-help will create a new social fabric and help in reducing the adverse effects of the pandemic.
Rashid Ali is a Banker by profession and Student of MS. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.