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KARACHI: Experts from diverse fields on Wednesday discussed the government ‘vision’ expressed in the 2014-15 budget and called for ensuring social justice in government’s economic policies.

They were speaking at a seminar on ‘Social Protection as a Citizenship Right’ organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) at a hotel.

While focusing on the common man’s problems, the speakers highlighted the missing links in the budget that related to social protection, equitable distribution of resources, ecological considerations and most importantly access to rights as enshrined in the constitution.

The senior economist and head of the Chief Minister’s Policy Reform Unit, Balochistan, Dr Kaisar Bengali, said he had dealt with many official budgets in his lifetime but no government seemed to have the vision to reduce poverty in Pakistan.

“The reason is that no government is ever serious to deal with poverty and ensure social protection to the poor,” he said.

On social security, he said, that though poor people might feel at ease when they received financial support under a social security system, this mechanism was an instrument to alleviate poverty and not a tool to eradicate it.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to help the elderly who can neither work due to deteriorating health nor received support from their families that themselves are finding it hard to make ends meet,” he said, adding that families that suffered economic problems on account of some terminal illness of a breadwinner also needed support from the government.

Sharing findings of his research, he said that it showed that families whose one member was terminally ill had to sell all their assets and their economic status fell below the poverty line. And, when that person died, other family members had to fight for their survival.

According to Dr Bengali, inadequate transport system especially in urban areas was a major problem people from low income groups are facing these days. This was not just a waste of time, a burden on their pocket but also affected their mental and physical health. Women suffered more in this case, he said.

Another senior economist and head of Collective of Social Science Research Dr Assad Saeed spoke about a welfare state and the facilities it could give to its citizens. “It’s the state’s responsibility to take care of its citizens from cradle to the grave. It should take care of its mothers and children and provide them with a nutritional level that can help them fight for a better life,” he said.

Commenting on the Benazir Income Support Programme for cash transfer to alleviate poverty, he said that one could see that it was not doing much to alleviate poverty.

Ms Adriana Conconi, Research Officer, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, in her presentation via Skype briefed about the poverty situation in South Asian countries.

Social activist Dr Aly Ercelan discussed the social protection mechanism, linking it to economy and ecology while focusing on fishermen. “We have a shortage of food resources and it is the responsibility of the government to conserve and increase food production resources,” he said.

Zeenia Shaukat of Piler shared the seminar’s objectives and briefed about the salient features of the budget 2014-15, its gaps in terms of poverty reduction and social protection.

In her opinion, there is a need to understand the state character and dealing with social sector. She also informed the audience about the status of multinational poverty index, a new term currently being used in social protection policies, and highlighted the steps the government was taking for marginalised population.

Food security, she said, had emerged as a major challenge as 50 per cent population out of total 180 million was malnourished due to unavailability of food.

Member International Council of the World Social Forum and Coordinator Global Social Justice Francine Mestrum also spoke via Skype on the social protection system in Europe.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2014