A lack of year round opportunity to earn a living wage is the basic constraint that pushes families into extreme poverty and prevents them from graduating from this state. The extreme poor typically have no land, no education or marketable skills and no social network outside of their own underprivileged community. They frequently rely on selling their physical labour on a daily basis, as agricultural or construction workers or housemaids. However such casual daily labour is highly seasonal, lacks security, is often poorly paid, and provides no ability to accumulate the savings needed to respond to family level shocks such as ill health or abandonment. Hence the labouring extreme poor face the constant threat of being forced into permanent or temporary destitution, relying on begging and forcing a further reduction in already scant levels of consumption. This in turn worsens health and nutrition problems and makes it even more difficult to get onto the first step of the ladder out of poverty.
When extreme poor men or women become ill, old, pregnant, or have to take care of small children or ailing parents, they can no longer sell their labour, and then they are left with no means to earn a living. Not surprisingly the incidence of extreme poverty is highest in those regions of Bangladesh that are most economically isolated, where the benefits of economic growth experienced by the country as a whole have had least impact and where there is greatest vulnerability to shocks such as cyclone, flood or seasonal drought.
However even in economically dynamic areas such as Dhaka or Chittagong the poorest lack the ability to tap in to this economic success – lacking necessary skills or education, facing constraints such as disability or chronic ill health and lacking the capital to establish or sustain their own micro businesses. The extreme poor seem destined to be kept on the outside, not allowed to share in the benefits of the considerable economic success being achieved by the country as a whole. Improving the extreme poor’s access to markets, land and skill development opportunities can help them earn a livelihood.
What should be done to address this challenge?
Shiree is currently consulting with stakeholders and recognized experts in this field in order to develop a consolidated list of priority recommendations that can form the core prescriptive element of the Manifesto for the Extreme Poor – with the aim of these being presented to all of those with potential access to power and resources. The consultation deadline is fixed for September 30, 2012, after which the Manifesto will be drafted.