A study conducted by Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) revealed that millions of urban and new poor created by the pandemic remain unaddressed by the government's social protection programmes.
According to the study, income uncertainty among informal sector workers, most of whom live in the cities, has worsened during the pandemic.
Forty-one percent of these people have shifted to lower-paying jobs, eight percent are still unemployed and their income level has decreased seven percent below the pre-pandemic level.
Moreover, the poor urban residents have been hit hard by a 98-percent increase in non-food expenditures such as rent, transportation, healthcare and utilities.
As a result, debt as proportion of annual income has doubled in the last one year and savings have been depleted drastically (by 11 percent in urban and 24 percent in rural areas), creating 24.5 million new poor as of March, 2021.
These alarming facts were shared in a webinar titled "COVID Impact and Social Protection Challenges: Urban and the New Poor" yesterday organised by PPRC in partnership with BIGD.
The study also reveals that these new and urban poor are not getting any visible assistance from the government's social protection programme despite their irreparable economic loss in the pandemic.
Only around one percent of the urban poor are currently included in the existing social protection programmes such as old age allowance, widow allowance and disability allowance.
According to Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman, PPRC and keynote presenter of the webinar, "The Covid-19 crisis did not trigger any expansion in social protection allocations in the new budget. The social protection responses were mostly financed through re-purposing existing allocations rather than additional new financing."
Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC Bangladesh said, "The government had announced to support five million poor people through $148.81 million unconditional cash transfer. Eventually, they identified around 3.7 million people and all of them were rural poor."
Explaining the urban-rural social assistance gap, Ugo Gentilini, global lead for social assistance, The World Bank, said, "Perceptions that there are more jobs and opportunities in the cities assisting urban poor may trigger rural to urban migration, adapting design of social assistance to urban livelihoods and lack of specific data are some of the major reasons behind urban-rural social assistance gap."
Dr Shamsul Alam, GED (Senior Secretary), Bangladesh Planning Commission said, "I think the government policy makers have deliberately and rightly made this decision of delivering most of the assistance to the rural poor because in Bangladesh there already exists visible attraction towards cities among rural population. Prioritising rural poor in social protection programmes will control mass migration towards cities and this will ultimately check the spread of the disease.
"The government has increased its budget on social protection programmes this year, although slightly. We have already proposed that unless and until we have a consolidated database of new poor, we can collaborate with NGOs who have been working in the rural areas efficiently and transparently, to ensure smooth and transparent disbursement of social assistances," added Dr Shamsul Alam.