Ehsaas about creating a 'Welfare State': PM Khan

World Tuesday 09/April/2019 16:01 PM
By: Times News Service
Ehsaas about creating a 'Welfare State': PM Khan

Islamabad: Pakistan's new Ehsaas poverty alleviation program is all about creating a welfare state according to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

In his policy statement about the program, Khan said, "Ehsaas is about the creation of a ‘welfare state’ by countering elite capture and leveraging 21st century tools—such as using data and technology to create precision safety nets; promoting financial inclusion and access to digital services."

The program, he detailed, was for " the extreme poor, orphans, widows, the homeless, the disabled, those who risk medical impoverishment, for the jobless, for poor farmers, for labourers, for the sick and undernourished; for students from low-income backgrounds and for poor women and elderly citizens.

"This plan is also about lifting lagging areas where poverty is higher."

The program is based on four pillars and 115 policy actions according to Khan. The pillars he listed include addressing 'elite capture' and making the system of government work to create equality; safety nets for disadvantaged segments of the population; jobs and livelihoods; and human capital development.

Khan added, "It is the prime duty of the government to cater for those that are left behind, and to build safeguards against elite capture, which is evident in the taxation system, in water management, in crop choices, in land use priorities, labour laws and in much else."

Outlining his plans, Khan proposed a constitutional amendment to "make provision of food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief for citizens who cannot earn a livelihood due to infirmity, sickness or unemployment" a responsibility of the state.

Additionally, he said social protection spending would increase by PKR 80 billion in Pakistan's 2019-20 budget and that the total incremental increase in the 2020-21 budget would be PKR 120 billion. Khan added that as part of the programme, total social protection spending would rise to account for one percent of the country's GDP.

According to Khan, 38.8 percent of people in Pakistan currently suffer from some form of poverty, with 24.4 percent not having enough money for their basic necessities. A number of initiatives will be launched under the umbrella of Ehsaas to address the problem.

One is called 'Tahafuz', a safety net initiative developed "for the vulnerable to protect them against shocks. It will "involve one-time financial assistance to protect against
catastrophic events," he said.

Tahafuz will provide assistance to widows, legal aid, and support programs by NGOs for orphans, street children, seasonal migrants, transgender, victims of child and bonded labour and daily wage workers.

Khan also said Ehsaas homes will house 10,000 orphans, that there would be 'panah gah' shelter homes in several major cities, and a housing scheme that will provide interest-free loans to landless farmers.

Another measure, called Kifalat, aims to promote financial empowerment and digital inclusion. As part of the program, 500 digital hubs will be established, allowing government digital resources to be accessible as a public good he explained.

For the elderly, Ehsaas will raise the labour pension from PKR 5,250 to 6,500 through the Employees Old Age Benefit Institute. Five Ehsaas homes for the elderly will be built for the elderly.

To support Pakistanis living abroad, the number of Community Welfare Attaches will increase as part of Ehsaas. The number of Protector of Emigration Offices will also increase.

Under the policy, Khan said that negotiations with other governments will be held to extend the duration of the first contractual agreements of Pakistani workers abroad to a minimum of three years "because unskilled workers hardly recover their cost of migration before that time." Another policy action aims to subsidise air tickets for low paid workers abroad who have not returned home in seven years.

"Pakistan is facing a crisis in terms of malnutrition that is among the worst in the world; our country is losing 3 percent of its GDP to stunting every year- a situation in which children cannot grow in height, their brains don't grow, and cognitive abilities don't develop, a major setback in today's knowledge economy," he explained.

He said the government has introduced measures including the asset transfer of goats to the rural poor, a 5+1 model of desi chicken asset transfer for poverty alleviation and nutrition, a community health and nutrition initiative, and more to fight malnutrition.

Khan said that a Universal Health Coverage policy would be adopted at federal and provincial levels that will leverage technology to increase geographic and financial access to healthcare. Priority, he explained, would be given to conditions where the poor bear the higher burden of disease.

In the field of education, the Ehsaas policy actions include a second chance program for girls in schools, colleges, and universities; need based undergraduate scholarships by the Higher Education Commission for students from low-income families; free e-learning content; and education vouchers among others.

Pakistan, he said, would also be accelerating a foreign policy drive to review manpower opportunities in neighbouring countries and emerging nations such as Japan and Germany

"This entire agenda is heavily skewed towards the uplift of poor women—from the 6 million women who will benefit from the Kafalat to preferential support for women through Tahafaz," he reiterated. "More than 50% of the education vouchers and scholarships will be for women. Insaf Card covers health conditions for women, preferentially."

According to Khan, Ehsaas is the biggest program for the poor ever launched in Pakistan.

"The government looks forward to working with all stakeholders—public, private, civil society, philanthropists, and expatriate Pakistanis—to ensure that we deliver on our promise of lifting
millions of people out of poverty and build a strong foundation together for a stronger, safer, and successful Pakistan."