Poverty reduction efforts in Pakistan have been more on paper than an actual reality. Despite huge allocations each year to fight poverty, the number of people living below the poverty line has continued to increase. According to the latest Poverty Reduction Strategy Report, the federal and four provincial governments spent Rs 462.7 billion, up 10.4 percent or Rs 44 billion on poverty reduction programmes during July-September, 2017, compared with the expenditures made in the first quarter of the last fiscal year. However, a large sum of Rs 354.4 billion was spent on meeting current expenditures, including salary payments and other recurrent obligations.
A detailed analysis shows that the five governments spent Rs 25.2 billion on subsidies which were higher by 30.7 percent than the corresponding period of last year. An amount of Rs 24 billion was spent on targeted subsidies and cash reimbursements under the BISP while expenditures on social security and welfare decreased to Rs 9.0 billion from Rs 9.7 billion in the comparable period of last year largely because of low spending by the Sindh government. A sum of Rs 6.064 was spent on education which was higher by 17.2 percent than last year's but 92.5 percent of those spending went to meet current expenditures. Spending on universities, colleges and other education institutions increased to Rs 21.7 billion due to higher federal spending. The spending on higher education, however, remained at the previous year's level.
Poverty has become one of the major issues across the globe and various governments are sponsoring Social Safety Nets (SSNs) as a cushion to mitigate the devastating effects of people's state of being extremely poor. However, challenges are generally in the implementation of SSN programmes that include setting the eligibility criteria, introduction of a poverty score card, scarcity of resources and demand-supply gap. The government of Pakistan is said to be committed to eliminating poverty by 2030 which is in complete consonance with country's Vision 2025 but there are all kinds of challenges to eradicate poverty by that date in all its dimensions and manifestations from all parts of Pakistan. There are various reasons for that. Firstly, there is poverty or scarcity of resources in Pakistan. A major part of the budget is spent on defence, debt servicing and current expenditures and little is left for poverty reduction and other social sector programmes. It follows then that if the government is serious in poverty reduction, other expenditures have to be curtailed which is very difficult in the current environment.
It is strange that expenditures in areas like road building, environment protection, education, healthcare, rural development, law and order, justice administration, etc. are dubbed as poverty reduction expenses, which is obviously not the case. Also, most of the expenditures that are counted as pro-poor are actually made to pay salaries to the departmental staff, particularly in the areas of health, education, justice administration and law and order. These expenditures which go into the pockets of the staff cannot possibly be counted for the reduction of poverty.
The government has prioritized 17 pro-poor sectors and total expenditures on these sectors as a percentage of GDP were 9.3 percent in 2015-16 compared to 8.3 percent a year earlier and 7.7 percent in 2013-14. If increasing expenditures on these sectors was the yardstick, poverty in the country would have gone down. But according to a large number of independent experts, despite an overall increase in pro-poor spending, there has been no significant change on the ground. In fact, there have been concerns about deterioration in the social indicators of health and education as the services offered by government schools and public hospitals are worsening by the day. Clearly, much more work needs to be done for measuring poverty and finding ways to reduce it in an effective manner.