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Some of Sri Lanka’s poor are ‘ashamed to be poor’

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Quite a few of Sri Lanka’s poor receiving Samurdhi benefits feel ashamed of being poor or are made to feel so by others in the community, a new study by the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) shows.
“(The) Analysis of the dignity and respect dimension (also) provides policy implications for Samurdhi. The survey finds that while there are widely expressed views that being poor is nothing to be ashamed of, among poor households there are indications that they are ashamed, or made to feel ashamed by others, due to their poverty.

In such a context, the new community selection methods to increase the effectiveness of Samurdhi targeting may have unintended, adverse implications on programme beneficiaries. The selection method involves households being identified as poor in a public meeting at the village level, and given the tendencies to shame proneness and accumulated humiliation among Samurdhi households, such an exercise is likely to further deepen their feelings of helplessness and exclusion,” the study said.

The study was among many issues that figured at the recent 43rd Open Forum organised by the Centre for Poverty Analysis on September 25. It was chaired by Prof. K. Tudor De Silva, Senior Professor, Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya and Executive Director International Centre for Ethnic Studies and featured two presentations by Research Professionals from CEPA. Ranathunga Hemachandra, former Additional Secretary Samurdhi Authority was the discussant.

It was pointed out that social welfare programmes, though often designed with laudable aims, usually suffer from a number of failings in practice. These can stem from an insufficient understanding of the nature of poverty. For poverty alleviation strategies to be successful, they need to be grounded in a holistic understanding of the nature of poverty among its target population.

Presenting an ‘Introduction to Multidimensional Poverty, the Pilot Study and Methodology’, Nilakshi De Silva, Senior Research Professional at CEPA gave a methodological overview of a study done in Badulla. She stated that one of the main drawbacks to a better understanding of poverty has been a lack of data on dimensions of wellbeing such as quality of employment, empowerment and dignity. This study has developed survey modules to collect and analyse data on several dimensions of poverty that appear important in the experiences of deprived people, but have been largely ‘missing’ in large-scale quantitative work on poverty and human development.

The modules are based on the work of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), which is grounded in Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to understanding poverty. The application of this survey module in the Badulla District, has generated a set of new data about poverty, and created an opportunity to explore the extent to which households are deprived in multiple dimensions of poverty, simultaneously. While poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon enjoys considerable acceptance at the conceptual level, in Sri Lankan policy circles, it is yet to be explored and analysed with survey data, CEPA said in a press statement providing details of the Open Forum.

Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Samurdhi Programme has been a key policy focus of successive governments during the last decade and the programme has undergone many revisions and adjustments. Using the Badulla dataset, K.I.H.Sanjeewanie, Research Professional at CEPA presented data that compared Samurdhi households with non Samurdhi households in relation to dimensions that are often ‘missing’ from survey data. The study also attempted to compute deprivation in multiple aspects simultaneously.

“The two main policy questions in relation to the Samurdhi Programme are (i) accuracy of its targeting and (ii) effectiveness of the programme in moving people out of poverty. In relation to targeting, the data discussed adds to existing knowledge by providing data on deprivation experienced by Samurdhi and non Samurdhi households in relation to a number of important dimensions such as quality of employment, empowerment, dignity and psychological and subjective wellbeing.

For example, the survey shows that Samurdhi households are deprived in relation to subjective wellbeing indicators, which may provide evidence indicating that targeting within the Samurdhi Programme is not as ineffective as some critics of the programme believe. These households may not be similar in relation to income or household situation, but the number and extent of problems they face – often unique to that household - shows that the programme has some degree of flexibility to recognise and respond to the multiple experiences of poverty among needy households,” the Samurdhi study revealed.

Sanjeewanie said in relation to programme effectiveness, a number of indicative findings may be relevant.

“When looking at quality of employment, heads of Samurdhi households tend to be employed in the informal sector, in low return activities such as wage work. There are implications from this for the employment and income generating activities promoted by the Samurdhi Programme, which focus mainly on capacity building and training activities with a view to shifting wage workers into self employment. However, given the income vulnerability that exists in these households, many are unlikely to be able to bear the loss of income during the transition or the risks involved in the main income earner shifting to new activities” the study noted.

In common with other households in the district, in Samurdhi households too there is considerable discouraged employment – with household members such as adult children, interested in working but enable to find work. The results of this analysis suggests that the Samurdhi Programme could focus more on such other members of the household to provide new income generating opportunities to supplement the main income generating activity; this would support the programme’s aim of promoting households out of poverty while not increasing household vulnerability further.

Mr. Ranathunga, former Additional Secretary, Samurdhi, Poverty Alleviation and ICT, Ministry of Economic Development, acknowledged that the Samurdhi Programme recognises that poverty cannot be measured only through income and that other dimensions of poverty should be considered when selecting beneficiaries for a national poverty reduction programme.

He recalled that when the Samurdhi programme started in 1996, after the Janasaviya Programme, the beneficiaries were selected based on household income (using the poverty line and those getting below Rs. 1,500 per person per month). The types of services offered were also mainly food stamps, savings and cash handouts. He went on to state that since then, officials have recognised the need to include multi-dimensional aspects of poverty and it was with that intention that the Family Classification Method (FCM) was introduced as a beneficiary selection method.

This method was based on a beneficiary animation method where people’s perceptions were considered when developing beneficiary criteria for the programme. This has resulted in income and non-income indicators being considered as selection criteria. He also stated that the FCM has resulted in reducing the mis-targetting of the national welfare programme.

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