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Spending cuts in welfare



Mian Bilal

Government has decided to cut the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) development budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year by around 14pc and similar reductions are expected in Health and other social welfare sectors in accordance with austerity initiative taken by current administration in order to bring down the ballooning fiscal deficit. Govt’s intentions maybe sincere in this regard but cutting the spending in social sector especially Health and education is a counterproductive move in its entirety. These two sectors are chiefly responsible for increasing the pace of development in country and more precisely for human development.

The term ‘development’ can become pretty confusing for naïve policy makers who seem to think that the human development is nearly a fancy word coined by global elite and that economic development is the only true aspect of development. More money means a happier nation. Well that does not seem to be the case. Human development is real and its impact on the health of countries is far greater than previously thought. Human development means the overall development of people in all aspects, not only economic one. This concept of development is not a new one, but it has only recently caught on. The sustainable development goals a global agenda of development for next 15 years spear headed by United Nations takes into account all aspects of human development. Economic development is only 1 part of this agenda along with 16 others.

Here I will discuss 2 other factors that play a vital role in human development. They are access to quality education and health services.

Education and health both are fundamental human rights and vital part of any development agenda. Their provision is crucial for a country if it wants to grow in terms of economic and human capital. Unfortunately, in Pakistan provision of education and health facility is seem as an expense rather than an investment. Government considers itself bound to provide these facilities because the public demands it and they will not get votes in next election if they are not taught the revolution that they have brought in education and health sectors.

This is simply not true. Public spending on basic facilities like better quality schools and hospitals is not vital for the human development but for countries economy to. Even if the politicians adopt a strictly economic shrewd public policy with no concern for human development, even then developing health and education sector is still profitable. An educated and healthy worker is better than a sick an educated laborer.

Pakistan is already spending 2.6 percent of the GDP on education compared to 7.4 percent in Bhutan, 5.2 percent in Maldives, 3.8 percent in India, 3.7 percent in Nepal, 3.3 percent in Afghanistan, 2.2 percent in Sri Lanka and 1.9 percent in Bangladesh as revealed the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2017. Pakistan is not meeting the education financing benchmark i.e. public education expenditure as a share of GDP and of total public expenditure. This was stated in the GEM report, “Accountability in Education: Meeting Our Commitments”, launched by UNESCO Islamabad in collaboration with Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS). The report further states that Pakistan has monitored the attendance of over 210,000 education staff in 26,200 schools using biometrics: fingerprints and photos, coupled with Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates. As of February 2017, 40,000 absent teachers and 6,000 absconders (employed but long absent) have been disciplined.

The case for increased spending on education and health sector is pretty strong considering that they should be seen as investment that will return to the nations exchequer multifold rather than simply being a drain on treasury. If the government treat spending money on basic facilities education and health than it would be impossible to achieve good governance. A government is considered good when it treats its citizens as assets rather than liability. This is what lead to decline of communism in much of the world in late twentieth century. Communist state considered the citizens to be a responsibility rather than equal state holders who ought to have an equal say in matters concerning them.

The capitalist nations witnessed unprecedented economic growth because they invested in their citizens. It is true that strict capitalism would see the rights of workers decline but a market economy coupled with social governance and a strong social security system lead much of the developed world to current state.

An educated and healthy nation is the only way to develop a decent living arrangement. That is why the Scandinavian countries despite not having top economic conditions are considered the best choice in term of human development and living conditions. Shrewd policy making based on economic game has become a thing of past and it is better to ditch the old ideology in favor of a more comprehensive one.

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