Poverty, dodging the numbers

Poverty In pakistan

The number of people living in poverty has increased in last decade

Lies more lies and official figures, best describe that how the government manipulate or sometime distort figures to give entirely different picture of the situation. The same applies to the figures regarding the poverty. It is hard to get reliable figures from government sources. Every government downplays the level of poverty and release figures to support its claims.

The independent economists and commentators always question the authenticity of these figures. The numbers sometimes gives wrong impression. When Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told us that number of people living in poverty is now around 29% of the population, one forced to think about the widespread poverty in the society.

For independent economists and researchers the number is around 60%. Why is the gap between government figures and independent estimates is so high, the answer is simple. The government wants to show that it has reduced the poverty. Its economic policies have improved the lives of millions. The civil servants and so-called technocrats know very well how to get desired figures to please ignorant rulers without changing anything.

Shaukat Aziz , the famous finance minister and than prime minister in Musharaf regime masters the art of dodging the figures. Just to show that how rapidly his economic policies reduce poverty in the country, he changed the definition of the poverty. From dollar a day income, it was changed to the food calories one take in a day. The people living in poverty at the time was 63%. The change in the definition immediately bring the numbers down to mid twenties. We were told that people living under the poverty line was 34.1% (official figures) in 2000 and came down to 9.3% (official figures) in 2014. Can anyone believes that almost two thirds of people living under the poverty line was brought out of the poverty trap, when average economic growth rate was around 2.4% from 2008 to 2013.

Now the present government once again changed the definition and make one dollar a day income as the basis to define the poverty. The benchmark increased from Rs 2502 per month to Rs.3030 per month. An increase of Rs 500 per month increased the numbers to 29%. Now we are told that with a small tweak to the poverty line, the number of those living below the line rises to almost one third.

The old poverty line was drawn in the year 2001 and was built on food calorific intake as the measure. The new line, just adopted and announced this week, takes ‘cost of basic needs’ as its measure, and shows that more than 29pc of the population lives in poverty. Clearly, the absolute number of those living below the poverty line is a lot higher than what the old data was telling us. But the number has still declined since 2001, when it would have been just above 63pc.

So what should we look at — the long-term decline or the jump due to the change in methodology? The answer is the latter, primarily because no new thinking appears to exist on how to move forward on lessening this figure. In rupee terms, the old line considered any adult existing on Rs2,502 per month to be living in poverty, while the new one raises this to Rs3,030. That a small addition of only about Rs500 per month should suddenly increase the headcount so drastically shows the large number of people clumped around the poverty line.

Why the respective governments played with figures? The reason is simple, they do not want to accept the simple fact that their economic policies have pushed millions of poor people into the trap of poverty. The free market economy and neo liberalism has increased the poverty level. No serious effort was made to reduce the poverty and to lift millions from below poverty levels to relatively better lives. The ruling class is not seems interested to introduce radical initiatives and reforms to improve the lives of millions of poor people.

The initiatives like Benazir Income Support Program can help the poor families to maintain the poverty level but can not lift them out of poverty. The eradication of the poverty is not yet on the agenda of the ruling class. Their whole focus is to improve their own economy. They want to safeguard their own economic interests. The poor working masses are paying the price of such exploitative, repressive and elitist economic policies.

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