Coronavirus crisis-food, employment, and welfare state

Pakistan needs well-planned and integrated social security net  

 Almost every government in Pakistan have expressed the desire to build a welfare state, but those rhetorical appeals seem hollow unless supported by concrete steps to expand the scope of Pakistan’s limited existing social programmes and safety nets.
The first government of PPP under the leadership of Z A Bhutto shaheed was the only government in the history of Pakistan which took concrete steps and policy measures to build a welfare state. But the overthrow of Bhutto government in a military coup in 1977 practically ended this process.
There are two key elements of a welfare state. First-the state imposes higher taxes on rich and big companies and provides basic needs, utilities, and services to the general public. Second-state played leading role in redistribution of wealth in the society through progressive taxation and social programmes. This keeps the inequality and exploitation to a certain level.
A welfare state spends more on marginalised sections of society. It provides employment or unemployment benefits to its citizens. Free education, health and cheap utilities and services provided to people.
Since then, every government uses the rhetoric of welfare state but never took concrete steps to establish a welfare state. Under the conditions of IMF and World Bank, the right wing governments took away most of the pro-people reforms introduced by Bhutto government.     
The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of our social programmes and safety. Now it is time to develop well-designed programmes that complement rather than compete with the existing welfare programmes at both the federal and provincial levels.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a complex public health, economic and social crisis that requires our policymakers to act decisively and build consensus to develop well-designed and well integrated social programmes and social security net to help the poorest sections of society in the need of time.  
The government needs to prepare a plan to address the issues of employment and poverty as the result of coronavirus crisis and lock down. Pakistani economy is in serious crisis. Both the unemployment and poverty is already on the rise. The poverty is estimated to double in this crisis. The unemployment is also going to rise. 
Poverty in Pakistan may more than double, from 23% to 57%, as a result of the COVID-19 shock, according to the estimate from the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
Ensuring food security and employment for the poorest citizens must be the federal government’s urgent priority in the coming months and years. This is no small task and requires careful planning, new and creative ways of targeting those who are outside the safety net, and an unprecedented fiscal commitment to social welfare expansion.
The two brilliant  young Pakistani researchers Rehan Rafay Jamil and  Kabir Dawani  in a well researched article in Dawn pointed out that “ International experiences have shown that public works programmes, where the state employs people for various projects, and food distribution programmes, such as providing meals to school children, have been immensely successful in expanding welfare nets. Out of the box thinking is needed to come up with suitable long-term programmes for Pakistan’s context.”
"In neighbouring India, the foundation of a rights-based welfare system was put in place after 2005, which could play a vital role in addressing the devastating impacts of COVID-19 there. Two key components of India's welfare system are the constitutional guarantees of right to food and the right to work. To make these social entitlements actionable, two programmes were established: a minimum guarantee of food through a nationwide food distribution network known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), and the National Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which guarantees a hundred days of employment to India’s poorest citizens.
 Activists and leading economists in India are now calling for their government to expand the PDS food allocations and the number of days of work provided by NREGA to give relief to India’s vulnerable daily wage and migrant workers. In Bangladesh, a similar public works programme provides employment to seasonal agricultural workers during the lean season for rice growing in October- November when there is a dearth of rural employment and concerns about poor families’ ability purchase food supplies.”
In Pakistan, despite the successful implementation of a national cash transfer programme, there is no equivalent public works programme to ensure that those who have lost their livelihoods can obtain critical employment in the difficult days ahead. There was briefly experimentation with the Peoples Work Programme (PPP) in the 1970s, however, lack of proper oversight and poor design resulted in a largely unsuccessful programme that was subsequently disbanded. Past experience with social welfare programmes, such as Zakat and Bait-ul-Maal, also shows that poorly designed programmes can divert social transfers away from their most deserving recipients.
Similarly, with regards to food distribution, Pakistan lacks a national system for food distribution, despite large government procurement of wheat and subsidies for agriculture. The public utility stores, which are also heavily subsidised by the federal government, do not benefit Pakistan's poorest citizens. The more recent Ehsaas-Langar programme simply does not have the outreach to effectively address the scale of malnutrition and hunger prevalent in many parts of Pakistan, which is likely to exacerbate by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Let us face the reality. The virus is going to stay here for longer than we thought earlier. The virus is here to stay, at least for a year and probably longer until a vaccine is developed, which means that neither is a prolonged lock down sustainable and nor will the economy return to the levels it was at before.


  1. Welfare state need to raise the status of ppl of Pakistan. Unfortunately, in the presence of army influence with nearly one million personnel of security institutions looks a dream. PPP govt. of 70's has worked on nuclear weapons means that in near future we have to reduce our regular army over 50%.But we could n't go through as planned and missed the golden chances to stand Pakistan on top in Asia. Now we will live and die in similar circumstances and will be played in the hands of IMF/WB etc,etc.


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