Muscat: The number of poor in Oman has increased dramatically since the year 2008 and the government has to dig deeper in its coffers to help people in the social welfare system.
The state's social welfare bill increased by 60 per cent in 2012 to OMR122 million compared to just OMR37.6 million in 2008. There were only 50,600 people who were getting the monthly state handouts in 2008 and that tally increased to more than 81,000 people in 2012, according to the figures at the National Center for Statistics & Information. The statistic of the people who depend on the social welfare in 2013 is not yet available but it is expected to increase by 15 per cent to follow the five-year trend.
And if the 15 per cent annual prediction is correct, then its means the welfare group will expand by 24,000 people to 105,000 by the end of 2014, which means about five per cent of the population of Omani nationals. It is obviously fast becoming a financial pressure to the government as more citizens are set to depend on the free handouts. On the other hand, the gap between the low class and the middle class is widening to create a social imbalance in earnings.
For example, the standardization of wages has increased the pay of civil servants up to 25 per cent. The move has overnight created a big gap in income between the two sides. It means the government is paying for the two social classes to keep both sides happy. This year, the coffers will need to come up with the extra bill of OMR900 million for the pay rise of civil servants, who make up the bulk of citizens in the middle class.
Critics may say social class divisions exist everywhere in the world and it is the role of the government to help those who are in the lower rungs. Critics would also say that a little inequality will encourage innovation and individuals to work harder to climb the social ladder. For that to happen, the social welfare recipients must make a genuine effort to improve their lives to avoid drenching the state coffers.
The people in the social welfare would want to come out from their dependant state provided the opportunities are divided equally to all. If not addressed properly, it will have a serious affect on education, health and living standards. If not checked, it will be a threat to social progress and national stability. People in the social welfare live in hand to mouth existence and as they see the economic developments push on, they would be wondering why they don't have a stake in the wealth of the country.
We live in a world of globalization and technological changes. Fortunately, technology such as the social media is accessible to all classes because it is relatively cheap to get into. The millions of transmissions through the smart phones is full of the bragging of the middle and upper classes what their money can buy for them. A young person on the other side of the social ladder would look longingly at the shine on the bonnet of a new car that flashes in his Instagram's page. In other words, social imbalances create envy among young people who are supposed to be the powerhouse of the future economy. To give young people greater equality is not easy and no nation is immune to it. However, to lift people from the poverty line needs broader economic diversifications where young people can take a more active role.
What is more evident in Oman is that large imbalance between rural and urban development. In Muscat, the percentage of people cashing social security cheques is a fraction compared to areas outside the capital.
Perhaps the answer to narrow the divide between classes is to develop the inner towns to the same standards as in Muscat so more opportunities are available there, too. To look at the problem in a proper perspective, it is no exaggeration to say that what is needed to be done is to boost the rural economies. It is what the official statistics suggest. It is also the answer to narrow the divide between classes.