INEQUITABLE access to assets, market and human development not only persists in Pakistan, but is also reinforced every day by a confluence of unequal relations in roles, functions, decisions, rights and opportunities.

Welfare policy, or whatever is left of it, has failed to bring significant improvement for the marginalised. Along with a rise in gross domestic product, a parallel increase in inequality has also been observed and the growth gains have been limited to certain groups with elite access to resources and market participation.

Despite decades of social policy, access to resources and opportunities continues to be determined by race, place and class. Socio-economic status is a decisive factor in access to public services including education, health and labour market opportunities.

A study by the writer demonstrates that out of the 100 sons of people working as dishwasher, 72 will be dishwasher too. The same is true in education: only nine children out of 100 will complete graduation if their father was uneducated, but the ratio is 60 per cent for sons of graduate fathers.

Most alarmingly, only six sons will move from bottom poorest 20pc to top richest 20pc in their lives while 44 out of 100 will remain as poor as their fathers were.

This is because public policy in the country has failed to deal with structural inequalities. Not only that the poor face lack of resources, rights, goods and services, but also our social structure reinforces inability to participate in the normal relationships and activities in economic, social, cultural or political arenas.

Social exclusion is on the rise too. Alarmingly, 57pc Pakistanis feel unsafe in community, while 68pc believe that they are less safe in communities now as compared to the past.

With depleted economic, social, cultural and political resources of the poor, the question of access to public services becomes crucial. Access to material resources required for well-being and access to social networks and state institutions for the purpose of integration and well-being is central to public policy in this regard.

Access to material resources, mediated through different socio-cultural institutions in Pakistan, is creating fundamental inequalities of wealth and income. Focusing on poverty reduction is bound to fail if policy does not deal with these structural sources of poverty.

By the same token, better social relations are also a resource for gaining access to economic resources. Belonging to a particular group and position within that group not only defines status, but also the future economic returns.

In Pakistan, where status substitutes social contract, relational networks and individual positioning inside these networks largely determine the access to material resources in turn.

The relationship between citizen and state becomes crucial in this context. With structural inequalities so deeply rooted, leaving things for self-correction through increasing role of market in the distribution of income creates new problematic conditions, including poverty, ghettoisation, unemployment, isolation. It also shapes social, economic and political processes for future generation where poor are marginalised further.

Public policy therefore needs to focus on dampening structural inequalities by producing an environment conducive for economic and social mobility. Education attainment is noted as one of the primary sources of economic and social mobility.

Students belonging to lower social status mostly failed to complete their education, especially women, because of the sense of exclusion and discrimination they face with respect to the availability of schools in their localities and hostility at school.

Pakistan’s social structure, with lower economic development and high distributional inequality, is aggregating power, wealth and status in the hands of dominant groups further.

In a society where organising principle of politics and social action is pinned on status while economy staggers in between agriculture and industry, social cleavages become much more apparent and results in political and economic domination of certain groups.

Therefore, economic growth without development creates more economic and social inequality.

Pakistan needs new thinking about dealing with structural inequalities. The state needs to offer a well thought out welfare policy, which is contrary to the current models of social protection and redistribution policies dealing with poverty and inequality through ad hocism.

The new policy should deal with the redistribution of inequalities as well as with the production. It should tackle the foundation of structural inequalities.

Rules need to be rewritten for Pakistan. Policies to expand access to assets, increase investment in human capital, enhance market participation of the marginalised along with pro-poor monetary and fiscal policy need to be put in place.

Economic growth must be made inclusive through a mix of policies working together simultaneously and equal opportunities must be ensured.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October 16th, 2017

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