Workshop | Poverty Transitions and Social Protection: Experiences of and Attitudes Towards Urban Poverty

A workshop on Poverty Transitions and Social Protection: Experiences of and Attitudes Towards Urban Poverty, was organized by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the University of Sussex on October 25.

The workshop focused on the experiences of insecurity, inadequate assistance, and area-based discrimination faced by the urban poor in the post-COVID period. Findings and recommendations of a study conducted under the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO)’s Covid-19 Learning, Evidence, and Research (CLEAR) Programme were presented at the workshop by Dr Keetie Roelen, Principal Investigator of CLEAR. The study also highlighted high levels of insecurity among residents living in low-income areas, the impact of poverty on mental health, and inadequate social protection support. 

The research used longitudinal data on the COVID-19 period collected by Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and BIGD, and new survey data was collected from Kalyanpur in Dhaka and Shantinagar in Chattogram in March 2023. 

The first half of the workshop was chaired by Mr NM Zeaul Alam, Advisor, BIGD and former Senior Secretary, Information and Communication Technology Department, Government of Bangladesh. During a discussion on how government data could be supplemented with private data, Mr. Alam suggested that the two should complement each other. Dr Munira Begum, Joint Head of the General Economic Department of the Planning Commission, emphasized a more holistic approach to social protection while Dr Khandakar Golam Moazzem, Research Director of Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), stated that various economic factors such as inflation, the energy crisis, as well as the strain on foreign exchange reserves have contributed to the persistence of high levels of poverty instead of only COVID-19. 

While discussant Mr M. Kamrul Islam Choudhury, Director of the Department of Social Services, stressed on the government’s efforts to leave no one behind, Mr Md. Salim Reza, Chief Executive Officer of Dhaka North City Corporation mentioned the challenge of high population density (49, 500 persons per square kilometre) alongside the high rate of influx into the capital city (around 2000 persons moving into the city every day)

Mr Md. Imamul Azam Shahi, Program Head, Urban Development Programme, BRAC, urged for the inclusion of children, women, and the elderly in any discussion relevant to the topic, as they have been disproportionately affected by poverty in general and COVID-19 in particular. 

While appreciating how the research study provides insights into the mental health consequences of poverty and other crises. Ms Marjiana Mahfuz Nandita, Economic Adviser, Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), called for the need to continue work on strengthening the identification of beneficiaries.

The second half of the workshop on social protection was presided over by Mr M. Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, Senior Advisor of BIGD, and former Cabinet Secretary, Government of Bangladesh. Mr Bhuiyan concluded the session by recalling the National Social Security Strategy, which he called a visionary strategy to bring about fundamental reform, but lamented the fact that there were challenges in the strategy implementation.

Based on the findings of the survey, participants at the workshop suggested recommendations that could help those affected most by poverty to deal with the uncertainties of a fast-changing world post-COVID-19. Recommendations included the need to extend social protection programmes in urban areas, prevent area-based discrimination, ensure dignified distribution of aid, and adopt an integrated policy response.