Tuesday, 20 June 2017 06:44

With the begging bowl

The Grenfell Tower blaze where most of those who perished, or who lost everything in the flames, were Black and Minority Ethnic people, and they were all poor living on a council estate triggered this article. What happened at Grenfell Tower is part of a larger issue of structural inequality in general, and housing in particular, in which the poor are pushed out of quality housing in favour of regenerating the city for affluent and largely white renters and buyers.

The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is one of both race and class. Earlier this year, the Conservative Party voted down a bill that would have required to make landlords provide liveable housing, and it’s easy to understand why. By the Guardian’s reckoning, 39% of Tory MPs were landlords, with nearly a quarter of MPs across all parties owning rental properties. The residents of Grenfell Tower didn’t have much of a voice in Parliament, and they don’t have much of a voice in the local council. They are however fighting back with anger in the community on the manner in which the poor are treated.

Vagabonds ordinance in Sri Lanka

We in Sri Lanka have also dealt with the poor over the years. A survey on the problem of beggars was made in 1954 in then Ceylon. Based on the information in XI Sessional Papers of 1956, the question of poverty was addressed along with the recommendation made by the special subcommittee appointed the Minister to eliminate shortcomings in the Vagabonds Ordinance, and as a result detention homes were set up.

The detention homes that functioned under the Vagabonds Ordinance and the Detention Homes Ordinance vested in the Department in 1950 was housed in Gangodawila Detention Home and an additional Detention Home was commenced in 1975 in Ridiyagama, Hambantota. Arrangements were made to set up a home in Senapura, Anuradhapura to rehabilitate destitute families in 1988.

Department of Social Services

The issue of Food Stamps under the destitute relief programme was vested with the Department of Social Services in 1985. Accordingly more than half of the entire population was served by the Department of Social Services Department.

When the Department of Poor Relief was set up in 1990 relief work was entrusted to the Department of Poor Relief. The main functions at the beginning of the Department in 1948 was the implementation of a monthly public allowance, disaster relief, Workmen’s Compensation, maintenance of Homes for the Elderly, providing financial support to voluntary organisations.

A scheme to provide a monthly allowance to obtain nutritious food for poor people who suffered from tuberculosis was started in 1953 and in 1959 a similar scheme was started to assist leprosy patents. In 1996 Circulars were issued to assist thalassemia patients by providing assistance in a sum of Rs.500.00.

Homes for the elderly were established in Koggala in 1951, in Anuradhapura in 1952, in Kaithady in 1954 and in Mirigama in 1957.

What do experts say?

Freedom - from poverty, hunger and exploitation - of the lowliest, the poor people in the country remains a struggle. The poor have neither the skills nor the assets to respond to market signals. Hence markets have very little relevance to them.

Criticising the WTO agreement - which brought agriculture within its framework for the first time - as inherently unequal among nations, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned agricultural scientist has stressed the need for India to become livelihood secure from being food secure.

Amartya Sen observed on some occasion, “The design of public services depends in any country on what the powerful groups of that society see as important and imperative. For example, generally infectious diseases tend to receive much more attention than other maladies such as undernourishment do. The battle against infectious diseases has been a success story in the world - eliminating small pox, vastly reducing malaria, cutting down cholera and so on. Even the poor get a lot of attention and support when they have infectious diseases - partly for good humanitarian reasons but also because the possibility of the diseases spreading to others worries the more privileged members of the society. I sometimes wonder whether there is any way of making poverty terribly infectious. If the privileged could catch poverty from the poor they meet in the street, I do not doubt at all that poverty would be eliminated with remarkable speed”.

World Bank senior economist, David Newhouse commenting on Sri Lanka says, “efforts to further improve living standards of the poor should focus on promoting further structural transformation and urbanization. Roughly 28 percent of the workforce, and about half of the working poor, toil in the agriculture sector. Many of the poor live in peri-urban areas – over half of the poor are estimated to live within 30 km of a main agglomeration area.

Policies that help connect these workers to productive employment opportunities off the farm can contribute to sustainable poverty reduction. This is a long term agenda, however, and it will take years if not decades to reduce agricultural employment below 10 percent.

In the meantime, poor farmers and agricultural labourers need help to generate the income to allow them to invest in the human capital of their children. Farmers and agricultural labourers could benefit greatly from practical infrastructure investments, such as water storage tanks, irrigation facilities, fertilizer and seeds, electricity, and roads that would make them more productive. In addition, microfinance programmes that offer loans at reasonable interest rates that can be repaid post-harvest, rather than every month, could also facilitate productive investment among smallholder farmers”. (Daily News)

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