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Drastic measures needed to alleviate poverty

THE Punjab government is trying to alleviate poverty in the province without realising that the poor cannot get out of poverty traps without state help.

Poverty becomes a trap when a vicious cycle undermines the effort of the poor to improve their lots. The Punjab government would have to take remedial steps to help the poor escape from nine common poverty traps.

Family child labour traps occur when parents are too unhealthy and unskilled to be productive enough to support their family and children are thus forced to work. In this way, poverty is transmitted to next generations. Even if such a family protects children from work, they do not have resources for transportation expenses, school uniforms or fees and the resultant illiteracy trap ensures poverty of the next generation.

Debt bondage traps are very common in Punjab. The poor do not have access to bank credit and they are caught in debt traps when they borrow from unscrupulous moneylenders. Moneylenders calibrate loan amounts and interest payments to ensure that a family never clears the debt. Sometimes, the rate of pay for impoverished people working for their creditors is so low that it is insufficient even to return the interest they owe.

Under nutrition and resultant illness is another poverty trap. Usually undernourished persons are too weak to work productively, their wages are too meagre to pay for sufficient food, so they continue to work with low productivity for low wages and remain undernourished throughout their life.

The workforce finds itself redundant and trapped in low-skill trap when technology is upgraded. This happens when there is no incentive for individuals to invest in attaining new skills. Subsistence traps are a norm among small farmers of Punjab.

Specialisation can be the key to increasing productivity. Most of them have no alternative but to practice subsistence agriculture. With little surplus for sale, they live in poverty for generations.

Common property mismanagement traps are over-fishing in rivers and land over-grazing. Part of the problem is that community management of common resources has broken down – often a legacy of greedy colonial practices and imitated by post-colonial regimes.

Criminality traps are surfacing in the province as youths without access to useful education see little future in legitimate work and are drawn to gang membership and other cultures of criminality. Emotional scars from the experience of violence reinforce this trend.

Absence of working capital for many artisans becomes a poverty trap for them. Micro entrepreneurs can only afford a tiny inventory, so their sales are so meagre that they are unable to purchase a larger inventory the next day.

Mental health traps afflict many poor. Mostly poor people are deeply ashamed of their poverty, even when it is not their fault. They commonly have to endure daily mocking and humiliation and they usually feel terrible that they are unable to provide adequately for their children. This inability creates chronic feelings of hopelessness and anguish.

Source: The News

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