Low-income people need a breathing space

It is most unfortunate that the rising prices of daily essentials are forcing the middle- and low-income people across the country to compromise on their standard of living. A report published by this daily on Sunday revealed stories of struggles and hardship as these families are finding it hard to make both ends meet with their limited income. Many families had to reduce their consumption of nutritious food to cope with the situation.

Reportedly, in many families, their only earning members lost jobs during the lockdowns enforced in the past by the government to check the spread of Covid-19. While some of them could manage a temporary job, many still remain jobless or without a stable source of income. Meanwhile, soaring prices of essentials and hikes in transport fares and utility services have only added to their woes. Many are now trapped under huge debt which they are unable to pay off. For some, bearing the educational expenses of their children has also become impossible.

The government needed to come up with policies to support these people to cope with the pandemic’s economic pain, but unfortunately it has failed to do so. Instead, the prices of almost all kitchen items—such as edible oil, fish, beef, etc.—and vegetables are soaring in the local markets. The hike in diesel and kerosene prices (imposed by the government in November last year) not only increased the transport fares and agricultural production costs, but also made shipping more expensive, which also affected the kitchen markets. And now, there are plans to further increase the utility costs for the households.

Experts have warned that the combination of these increased prices will take a heavy toll on the low- and middle-income people. According to them, since edible oil and several other essentials are imported, the prices of such goods have to be set in accordance with the global prices. However, the prices of locally produced goods should not increase. Experts have also given their opinions against increasing the utility prices. If the government withdraws or reduces subsidies from these sectors without addressing the governance issues and system losses, and without addressing the crisis of disappearing jobs and incomes, the ultimate burden will be on the consumers.

During this pandemic, many low-income people have slipped into poverty, as several studies have found. If the price hikes of essential commodities and other non-food items cannot be checked right now, they will slip further below the poverty line. Therefore, we think the government should take into account the situation of the limited-income people and make policies that address their problems, not increase them.

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