Social breakdown

Published January 13, 2024

DUE to a variety of factors, inflation is rampant, and many economists do not see any relief in sight. There is a need to understand more about the impact of the cost of living crisis on various aspects of human life rather than just the purely economic aspects. Based on discussions with community activists, educationists, social scientists and staff of the Urban Resource Centre, the following few paragraphs are a glimpse of the impacts and tradeoffs low-income and middle-income groups face in the midst of this crisis.

The most significant impact of skyrocketing prices has perhaps been on human relations within the family and in the neighbourhood. Because of inflation, familial support on rainy days is dwindling, and the less well off can no longer rely on the perceived-to-be-better-off relatives for food, money and financial and material contributions during marital and bereavement customs, as the latter cannot afford such support anymore. As a result, family feuds have increased, and relationships with immediate family members are suffering.

The frequency of altercations between family members living in shared dwellings has also increased. Cases have also been reported where a house has had to be sold to pay off the accumulated electricity bill, resulting in the dispersion of otherwise cohesive family units. Shopping for joy and impulse buying customs are dying fast. In low-income neighbourhoods, because of inflation, people are reluctant to contribute to rituals that used to be participated in wholeheartedly. Earlier, in the case of deaths, neighbours provided food to the bereaved household for the first three days. Now, this grief-sharing mechanism is becoming challenging to maintain. It was an excellent mitigation mechanism which has fallen victim to the financial crisis.

A few cases of families coming together under one roof to collectively fight the rising cost of living have also been reported. Because of this increase in density, a new set of social problems has surfaced. The living space has been reduced, earlier enjoyed independence is lost, shared kitchen space is contested, the noise pollution by TV and other gadgets has increased, and increased demands on an individual’s privacy have been placed. The parking of vehicles due to the reduced share of spaces is another bone of contention. The phenomenon calls for redefining poverty as a lack of ownership of a dwelling and associated spaces.

Inflation has cast a shadow on every sphere of life.

Because of inflation, parents now have to choose between their kids when deciding whom to send to school and whom not to. The axe usually falls on girls; most of the time, they are the ones whose schooling is put on the back burner. School fees have been increased exorbitantly and, as a re­­su­­lt, demand for madressah education has in­­creased. Even though madressah fees have also increased, they are still affordable in relative terms. Families struggle to afford basic stationery for school. In the name of affordable and ‘English-medium’ education, many ‘private’ schools have mushroomed in low-income neighbourhoods. Though they employ highly contested quality standards, lower-income groups prefer them over government schools because they believe that public schools have incompetent or absentee teachers and below-par student facilities. With a rise in transport fares and travelling costs, parents are also leaving far-off residences to move near their children’s schools on rent.

On the other side of the coin, the number of students opting for the Cambridge system of education continues to rise, even though for these students, too, it is becoming challenging to afford the fees and related expenses. Thus, many young students have started working online, where they freelance and earn in foreign currencies.

Inflation has had an impact on dietary habits as well. The consumption of fruits is now a luxury, borrowing salt, spices and other food items from neighbours is a dying tradition, mutton is a distant dream for most, and boiled eggs in winter have become a luxury for many low-income groups.

High inflation has cast a shadow on every sphere of life, from the curtailed operational timing of the household refrigerator to cutting down on grocery items, reduced socialisation, compromises on the quality of food items, and loss of savings. And yet, the most significant impact is on human relations. If not addressed in a timely manner, this will make already weaker segments of society further vulnerable to exploitation.

The above-mentioned narration on the subject is, admittedly, not a comprehensive picture of the impact of inflationary pressures on the everyday lives of the masses and needs further, intellectually robust investigations.

Mansoor Raza is a Karachi-based academic.

mansooraza@gmail.com

Zahid Farooq is board member Urban Resource Centre.

zahidfarooq-urc@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2024

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