At May Day rallies there were resolutions to provide a better deal for workers in the coming months and years. Essentially the human dignity of workers and their families need to be restored. Doles and acts of charity are good but we need to go to a higher dimension and do justice to the workers. This will be achieved when a just society is created.
One of the key areas in ushering in a just society is poverty alleviation. In Sri Lanka as in almost all other countries the gap between the rich and the poor has widened to monstrous proportions. The world social justice movement Oxfam has reported that eight of the world’s super billionaires own more than 90 per cent of the wealth and resources. Charity is like the crumbs-from-the-table- policy or the trickle down theory. Facts and figures have shown that it does not work and it cannot work because the process does not deal with the heart of the problem and that is injustice.
In Sri Lanka and other countries we see millions of workers and their families struggling on or below the poverty line. That means they earn less than Rs.300 a day for an average family of four. It is not enough to even have two square meals with little or nothing left for healthcare, and education. As a result hundreds of thousands of youth from these poor families are often forced to take up jobs as three-wheeler drivers. Figures show that we have as many as half a million and most of them have no time for any vocational training which would help them to go higher in their career. In addition a huge number of three wheelers are also being used by criminal gangs for nefarious activities such as drug smuggling or prostitution.
The aim of Sustainable Development Goal number 1, is to eradicate extreme poverty and to reduce all forms and dimensions of poverty, at least by half, by 2030. Wimal Nanayakkara, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka in an article published in the Mirror Business in April has analysed the status of poverty in Sri Lanka, based on different poverty lines, both national and global.
According to Mr. Nanayakkara there are considerable regional variations and variations among population groups. To eradicate extreme poverty and to reduce poverty in all its dimensions, effective strategies will have to be developed to ensure that those who manage to escape poverty will not get entrapped in poverty again.
Those in extreme poverty and most vulnerable may need to be supported through precisely targeted social protection programmes, until they are in a position to stand on their own.
If the programmes like ‘Samurdhi’ are not properly targeted to cover the most deserving and vulnerable, it will not be possible to eradicate extreme poverty. When developing strategies to reduce poverty, the highest priority needs to be given to the elimination of child poverty, which could lead to the intergenerational poverty cycle, as it is necessary to break the poverty trap. The results of the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey will provide the latest estimates on income poverty. An in-depth analysis of the new survey data could provide the latest estimates of poverty based on different poverty lines. Such estimates will be useful as the baseline information required to monitor the progress of Sustainable Development Goals, which came into effect in January 2016.
In the meantime the rich and ruling elite also need to realize the need to stop wasteful expenditure, luxuries and extravagance. Alpechchathawayaor a simple and humble lifestyle has been a hallowed concept in Sri Lanka for thousands of years. If the rich and ruling elite save more and live in a simple way there will be lots more to share. We could also go into proactive ways of helping to bridge the gap. For instance one United States social justice movement did a survey and found that some five million cakes of soap were being thrown away by big hotels after they were used once or twice by the guests. They made arrangements to collect these thrown away cakes of soap, re-pack them and gave them to thousands of people who had no soap or water. Sri Lankan groups also need to consider such proactive and creative moves to bridge the gap, reduce poverty and bring about a just society.