Build safety netsThe government must buttress its support system to help those rendered jobless by the pandemic.
Even though the nationwide lockdown has been relaxed and limited economic activity resumed, an economic revival is not on the horizon yet. With the GDP projected to grow at under 2.5 percent in 2019/20 and face constraints for a rebound in 2020/2021, the problem may further exacerbate rather than ameliorate. Some recent studies have shown that three out of five employed people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. An estimated 85 percent of the over 73,000 domestic workers, a majority of them women, have lost their jobs after the lockdown began. The actual numbers might be much more.
The lack of safety nets to keep the most vulnerable from falling hard to the ground has led to an exponential increase in the number of people who can't meet their daily needs. The flimsy state of job security means that those who have been rendered unemployed are most likely to remain so for a long time to come. Understandably, those working in the unorganised sector, including domestic workers, daily wagers, transportation workers, construction workers and farmers, among others, are the ones facing the biggest brunt of the slump in the economy. They're getting ever more vulnerable as the pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing structural inequities.
Additionally, lower-middle-class families are already facing a crisis due to prolonged economic distress. The ambit of the vulnerable is, therefore, increasing by the day rather than decreasing. The government's response to the crisis has been grossly inadequate even as a large section of the population continues to struggle for basic survival. It’s high time the government woke up from its slumber and implemented immediate and effective measures to ameliorate the situation. It can begin with the direct transfer of funds to those who have lost their means to livelihood. The destitute can't be left to fend for themselves during such a crisis.But the government must also find more permanent solutions to the crisis, such as building a solid public distribution system to distribute free food grains to the destitute and fair-price grains to those from the lower-middle classes. Additionally, it must improvise on its flagship support programs for the poor. The Prime Minister Employment Scheme that the government began last year was disastrous, to say the least: it provided 13 days of work on average, against the professed 100 days, to 175,909 ‘unemployed’ people. Whether it is the federal schemes or the provincial or even local level ones, the execution is where the government falters the most. It must implement a solid check-and-balance system to ensure that the schemes do not get lost in the bureaucratic maze. The government is duty-bound to execute its support schemes to ensure that the existing structural malaise gets evened out and the most vulnerable get a way out of poverty.
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