hunger in switzerlandSwitzerland is a well-off country with a high standard of living and a low poverty rate. While poverty does exist within the country, food security is not much of a concern due to strong welfare programs. This is because hunger in Switzerland is an issue that the government takes seriously and works hard to improve.

Life in Switzerland

Switzerland has a high overall standard of living, but this comes with a high cost of living that can alienate impoverished people. Both Zurich and Geneva are some of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. Even against other developed countries with similar standards of living, Switzerland is expensive. The average total household expenditure in Switzerland is about 60% higher than the average of the European Union.

The price of living in Switzerland is steep. Swiss health insurance is mandatory by law, monthly rent is relatively high, and transportation and grocery costs are significant expenses. Switzerland also boasts some of the highest salaries in the world, which offsets the costs of living. However, of the 7.9% of Swiss residents living below the poverty line— about 660,000 people—still struggle to afford what they need. However, poverty in Switzerland is relatively low. Government welfare programs help impoverished people get back on their feet.

Welfare Programs in Switzerland

Hunger in Switzerland is rare due to the fact that Swiss welfare payments cover necessities such as food, clothing, housing, health insurance, and other personal needs. Upwards of 270,000 Swiss residents receive some sort of welfare, distributed at the cantonal level to residents living below the country’s poverty line. This amounted to about $2.85 billion spent on welfare throughout the entire country in 2018.

There are several guidelines about who qualifies for receiving welfare and how welfare benefits can be spent. They include housing within a certain price range, cars covered for health reasons or jobs inaccessible by public transport, and welfare not covering expenses for pets. Welfare recipients are not eligible to become Swiss citizens while receiving welfare or for three years after (although the wait is longer in some cantons).

The social assistance programs work to ensure Swiss residents are receiving the help they need to survive and get back on their feet. 8% of welfare recipients need help for six or more years, 20% require assistance for only one or two years, and about 50% receive welfare for less than a year. Aggressive and good quality welfare programs ensure that hunger in Switzerland is a very rare and easily fixable issue.

Global Food Security and Hunger Worldwide

While hunger in Switzerland itself is not much of an issue, Switzerland works hard to assist global food security.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a global partnership for agricultural research.  CGIAR is one of Switzerland’s 15 priority organizations for global development. It supports research in 80 countries on food quality and sustainable natural resource management. The goal of their research is to stabilize agricultural production and food supply for a rising global population. The Swiss Federal Council renewed its contributions to the CGIAR in 2019, pledging to contribute CHF 33.1 million or $35.9 million in the 2020-21 period.

Switzerland is dedicated to supporting other countries in facing food insecurity, as shown by the town of Basel which put together the event “Basel Gegen Hunger” in June of 2018. This was the second annual event for the campaign. The event raised funds and brought awareness to the hunger crisis in South Sudan. In six weeks, the residents of Basel raised more than CHF 53,000—close to $60,000—for people affected by the famine.

Hunger in Switzerland is low due to its comprehensive welfare programs. However, the Swiss are dedicated to fighting global hunger. Switzerland addresses hunger domestically and globally through agricultural research, giving money, and spreading awareness.

Kathy Wei

Photo: Flickr

poverty in switzerland
The media often refers to Switzerland as one of the wealthiest countries, a country that others “look to as a model in ‘liberal-market economy’ within Europe.” Many positively know Switzerland for its place in the human development index (HDI), overall being quite stable and prosperous in developments regarding wealth and happiness. Despite this, it still requires aid to support hundreds of thousands in Switzerland struggling to make ends meet, with the poverty index having grown from 7.5% in 2016 to 8.2% in 2017. Here is some information about poverty in Switzerland.

The Poverty Line

The poverty line, although low in comparison to the population of 8,651,647, affects more than 660,000 per year as of 2018. Around 3.2% of those people are reliant on welfare from the government. The welfare that they receive is better known as the ‘basket of goods,’ a monthly payment to provide for basic necessities. Basic needs include food and clothes, for which individuals will receive CHF1,000 ($961.70), as well as CHF1,000 for housing and CHF200 ($192.34) for health insurance as of 2020.

Welfare is not the only aid that the government offers. Persons who receive welfare may also have to meet with a budget advisor to help improve financial stability. Depending on personal status, one may have to continue looking for work or join an integration program.

People 18 and younger along with those who are 64 and older are more likely to struggle with poverty in Switzerland. Those older than 64 struggle the most as a result of lack of education, ability to work and limited resources. For many, life continues despite living paycheck to paycheck.

NGOs in Switzerland

There are 26 total NGOs providing assistance in Switzerland and neighboring countries. Caritas Switzerland is one of them, and is working to “reduce poverty in half.” Caritas is a global organization, with the goal to reduce poverty globally as well as provide emergency relief and post-natural disaster reconstruction. Caritas emerged in Switzerland in 1901, working to provide aid for those experience financial disadvantages such as single mothers, retirees and refugees. Caritas has been able to provide assistance to those battling with hunger, hygiene and humanitarian aid.  Additionally, it offers resources for debt relief education and income support.

Though the poverty line in Switzerland is significantly low, predictions determine that the rate of poverty will increase in the upcoming years. With the support of many NGOs, there is hope for the future. HEKS/EPER implemented 248 projects in 2019 to provide aid in Switzerland and 32 other countries in need. HEKS/EPER raised CHF31.2 million through donations from organizations and foundations as well as income from services, with a goal to assist social distress, poverty and post-natural disasters.

HEKS/EPER also created the project HEKS Wohnen, a program to assist those who may be socially disadvantaged find living quarters. Wohnen has the ability to provide a home and daily assistance if necessary. To date, it has helped 95 persons, with 93.7% of those having positive outcomes with families or persons finding sustainable housing and independence.

Despite projections that Switzerland’s poverty line will increase within the next couple of years, the support of NGOs such as HEKS/EPER, Caritas Switzerland and government welfare reform programs has presented positive opportunities to provide aid and assistance to those living in the country. Switzerland may have the ability to decrease its poverty projections with the support systems in place.

– Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in SingaporeOn one end of the spectrum, there are ultra-rich Singaporeans who live the luxurious lives one might see in the Hollywood hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” On the other end, there are many Singaporeans who are struggling to make ends meet. As a result, many have to resort to sleeping in the streets. It is too easy to forget that poverty and homelessness in Singapore are issues that still exist.

Homelessness in Singapore

In 2017, volunteers from the welfare organization Montfort Care and volunteer group SW101 conducted a survey focusing on issues that low-income individuals experienced. Within five hours of conducting the survey in 25 locations, the team found 180 people sleeping in public. Men comprised the majority of the homeless they found.

Later in 2019, Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy led the first landmark study on the homeless population. It unveiled the scale of homelessness in Singapore for the first time. The study found that there were “between 921 and 1,050 homeless people in Singapore,” most of whom were Chinese men. According to the study, homelessness is not typically a temporary condition but a chronic issue. About half of those interviewed had been homeless “for one to five years,” and a third for more than six years.

Non-Stereotypical Homeless Population

Homeless people in Singapore tend to stay vigilant and often try to avoid detection. It is not easy to tell them apart from other members of the public as they do not fit into the common stereotypical images of the destitute and vagrant homeless population. The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy study that found nearly 30% of the homeless found ways to maintain their appearance and look presentable.

The 2017 report revealed that approximately 60% of the homeless interviewed were employed. Around 58% had full-time employment, and 38% had temporary or part-time employment. Despite being employed, the nature and low pay of these jobs often drive people to the streets. Most of the homeless are employed in “low-wage, irregular jobs.” The average wage for homeless employees is only $1,036. This is well below the national median wage in Singapore at $2,564. With that level of income, it is impossible for many to afford a place to stay.

Public Housing

Singapore often prides itself on having one of the highest rates of homeownership in the world. The Housing Developing Board (HDB) sold apartments to around 90% of its inhabitants in 2018. HDB housing houses about 80% of Singapore’s residents. Although the HDB flats provide affordable options for Singaporeans, the strict eligibility requirements sometimes add to the problem of homelessness.

Furthermore, under the joint tenancy requirement, two single people, often strangers, have to co-rent a small one-room flat. The lack of privacy and conflicts between tenants sometimes make sleeping outdoors a more attractive option than going home. In fact, about 15% of those sleeping on the street “had HDB rental flats in their names.” Ng believes that long-term solutions to homelessness in Singapore would depend on HDB. Furthermore, it is urgent for the joint tenancy requirement to be revised or removed.

Addressing The Issue

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), as well as many other nongovernmental organizations, is working closely to help people in need and alleviate the problem of homelessness in Singapore. Over the past two years, MSF has been partnering with different community groups and government agencies to reach out to and assist the homeless population in Singapore. In July 2019, MSF launched the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network, bringing together 26 agencies to help the homeless in Singapore.

The ministry also provides temporary accommodation and relief through funded overnight shelters, including their Crisis Shelters and Transitional Shelters. For individuals that are unable to support themselves and have limited or no assistance from family, there are 11 MSF-funded Welfare Homes in Singapore. MSF’s Welfare Homes provide long-term residential care and support from basic physical needs to programs that improve emotional well-being. Between 2016 and 2018, MSF assisted about 300 homeless people.

Homelessness in Singapore is easy to miss, but it is no doubt a chronic problem that has persisted for many years. Since homelessness is a complex issue that with no singular common cause, it requires multifaceted solutions to mitigate. The government has been working closely with different agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Commendable efforts have been made to address the issue by reaching out and providing both short and long-term support for the homeless in Singapore.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

op 10 Facts About Hunger in Australia
Australia, home to more than 25 million people, is often regarded as a regional power with one of the strongest economies in the world. However, a significant portion of Australia’s population suffers from food insecurity. Many are unable to afford enough food to feed both themselves and their families. Here are the top 10 facts about hunger in Australia to know:

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Australia:

    1. More than four million people in Australia suffer from food insecurity. According to Foodbank Australia’s 2018 Hunger Report, more than four million Australians suffer from food insecurity, approximately 18 percent of the population.
    2. One in five children is hungry in Australia. Foodbank Australia reports that 22 percent of children in Australia suffer from food insecurity, and of that 22 percent, nine percent go at least one day a week without a single meal. Additionally, 29 percent of parents report they go a full day without eating at least once a week so their child has something to eat. In order to fight this, some schools provide breakfast programs. Charities such as Helping Hands provide families with weekly access to fresh food for a small donation.
    3. Women are more likely to suffer from hunger. Often due to living on low incomes or pensions, women are at a higher risk of hunger. Women are 31 percent more likely to suffer from food insecurity than men. Women with low incomes have a 49 percent chance of experiencing food insecurity while the rate for men is 38 percent.
    4. Indigenous Australians suffer disproportionately. Food insecurity affects roughly 30 percent of Indigenous Australians, both in remote and urban areas. In cities, Indigenous Australians often experience low incomes and lack of access to cooking facilities, making them more susceptible. In the country, options for purchasing food are limited. On average, Indigenous Australians spend at least 35 percent more of their income on food than Non-Indigenous Australians. However, the Australian government has worked to fight hunger with its Close the Gap campaign. Close the Gap was established in 2008 and focuses on achieving health equality for Indigenous Australians.
    5. Hunger is a greater issue in remote areas. Australians who live in remote areas are 33 percent more likely to suffer from food insecurity than those in cities. In cities, 17 percent of the population suffers from food insecurity. In remote areas that rate is significantly higher at 22 percent.
    6. Hunger negatively impacts mental health. Of Australians impacted by food insecurity and living in remote areas, 65 percent report feeling stressed, and 60 percent say that their situation makes them feel depressed. Australians living in urban areas report similar feelings: 54 percent report they felt stressed and 48 percent report food insecurity makes them feel depressed. Foodbank Australia found that 42 percent of those who receive aid say it helps improve their mental health and wellbeing.
    7. Australia’s high cost of living contributes to hunger. Wage growth has stagnated in recent years while Australians experience heavy cuts to welfare payments. Electricity prices have simultaneously skyrocketed. Consumer spending has plummeted, as increases in wages are unable to sufficiently match increases in costs. As a result of either an unexpected expense or expensive bills, 49 percent of Australians who suffer from food insecurity report being unable to afford food.
    8. Single-Parent Households are more vulnerable. Food insecurity impacts 39 percent of single-parent households in Australia, meaning they are the household type most likely to be hungry. Nearly two-fifths of all single-parent households struggle to put food on the table compared to 23 percent of single person households and 22 percent of family households with children.
    9. The task of providing food to the hungry is placed into the hands of nonprofits. The Australian government has yet to establish a government program that focuses on fighting food insecurity. Australia’s state welfare agency, Centre, does provide a one-time payment to those in crisis but has yet to establish additional support. Feeding the hungry has been placed in the hands of charities and private donors.
    10. Charities are unable to meet the demand for food. Only 36 percent of charities are able to fully meet the food needs of those they serve. This means 64 percent of food needs are still not being met. Additionally, these statistics do not account for those suffering from food insecurity who have not approached a charity. Furthermore, charities are completely unable to provide for seven percent of those who approach them each month.

These are the top 10 facts about hunger in Australia that illuminate the challenges many Australians face every day. Many factors contribute to food insecurity in the country and all too often put the most vulnerable at risk. However, programs such as Close the Gap and the work of nonprofit organizations illustrate how the country is taking powerful steps to end hunger in Australia.

– Nicholas Bykov 
Photo: Flickr

migration of peopleDr. Ermitte Saint Jacques is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Florida. Her primary focus is the transnational migration of people and globalization. Dr. Jacques sat down with the Borgen Project to discuss the state of the migration of people and some of the misconceptions that follow in their paths.

Limited Economic Opportunities

Dr. Ermitte Saint Jacques has found in her research that the migration of people provides benefits for both the migrants and the countries involved. “Many people migrate for a livelihood,” said Dr. Jacques. “If people can’t seek a livelihood in their own country, they travel abroad.” Migration enables people to maximize their opportunities. When prospects aren’t working out in one country, they have the capability to go to the next.

Many migrants return to their home countries after finding successful jobs; it’s often seasonal and not permanent. For example, in 2017, 4.4 million people immigrated to a country within the European Union. Of that, two million migrants were from non-EU countries. However, more than three million reported leaving the EU that same year. As of Jan. 1, 2017, non-EU immigrants made up only 4.2 percent of the EU population.

Supply and Demand

Businesses demand the need for workers, and migrants fulfill some of these demands. “It’s important to recognize the contribution immigrants have,” said Dr. Jacques. “Some immigrants come to open businesses, some come to be laborers.” Often, those who are here as laborers, fulfill an important function that might otherwise go unfilled. Many misconceptions about laborers revolve around them taking important jobs from citizens or living off of government aid.

“We need to push back against the rhetoric of migrants coming to steal work, get on welfare, etc.,” said Dr. Jacques. “Everything can cross borders except people, and that’s very problematic. Mobility for people is a problem.” Dr. Jacques hopes more countries will follow suit with the European Union’s policy on open borders and the Schengen Agreement. Signed in 1985, the Schengen Agreement eliminates internal borders to enable migrants to travel freely among countries in search of economic opportunities. Only four of the 26 members of the Schengen Agreement are not part of the EU.

Poverty and Migration

Poverty poses a problem in that it hinders many people’s ability to migrate because they simply don’t have the funds to leave. So, impoverished people often lack the opportunities that migration offers. People who don’t have the resources to migrate either need a social network that can provide access to the ability to migrate or they must enter a cyclical travel and work pattern. They travel as far as they can and work for a bit before traveling again until they finally end up where they want to be.

“We are not talking about people fleeing turmoil or fearing for their life,” said Dr. Jacques. “They are not refugees or seeking asylum. They are typically economic migrants seeking work.” Migrants are different than immigrants. Immigrants move from one country to another to live; whereas migrants typically move from one country to another for economic reasons, and often, the move is temporary.

People emerge from poverty by seeking better opportunities elsewhere, and migration enables them to do so. It is an investment for those who are struggling. “Migration is necessary for people to escape from the horrendous cycle of poverty and finally be able to maintain a livelihood,” said Dr. Jacques. The more people understand about the migration of people, the easier it will be to dispell the misconceptions.

Jodie Filenius

Photo: Flickr

African Welfare Programs 
Basic welfare programs were introduced in select African states toward the end of the colonial age. Rather than aiding the poorest citizens, the earliest programs were social security schemes designed to assist affluent wage-earners, predominantly white, in their retirement. The majority, who made meagre wages or subsisted through barter exchange, did not qualify for benefits. African welfare programs remain underdeveloped and their qualifying criteria often exclude the neediest citizens. But increasingly, African leaders are seeing welfare programs both as an effective way to reduce poverty and as a tool for leveraging political advantage.

Welfare Programs in Tanzania

In 2013, Tanzania launched the Productive Social Safety Net (PSSN) to assist its poorest citizens through small monthly “cash transfers.” The program has rapidly expanded coverage from 2 percent of the population in its first year to more than 10 percent in 2018. With this program, every recipient receives an unconditional sum that translates to about $5. Beneficiaries can qualify for additional funds by enrolling their children in schools and ensuring they attend regular health check-ups. A “cash-for-work” scheme enables members of a beneficiary’s household to earn around $1 per day for contributing labor to public works projects.

PSSN is geared toward Tanzania’s poorest. Funds are directed toward communities in the lowest-income bracket, but each community elects the households it deems most in need. The governing agency then conducts its own checks to ensure the elected beneficiaries are eligible. A 2016 report led by the World Bank found that 48 percent of PSSN beneficiary households land in the lowest decile for consumer spending. At around $13, average monthly cash transfer values represent about one-fifth of total monthly expenditure for PSSN households.

Welfare Program in Kenya 

Kenya began making together a wide-ranging welfare system during the height of the aids crisis. With support from UNICEF, the Kenyan government piloted a cash transfers program targeting households with orphans and vulnerable children in 2004. It was found that most beneficiaries used their transfers to buy basic necessities like food and school supplies, quelling fears the funds would be squandered. As of 2015, approximately 250,000 Kenyan households received transfers at a flat rate of around $21.

Since 2003, the Kenyan government has funded elementary education for all school-aged children. Reports show that this has not only been highly effective in increasing school enrolment and extending the duration of children’s’ education but has also boosted Kenyan test scores to the top level across the continent. However, there are some bad sides to this program as well. Although tuition is paid for, there are still costs that need to be picked up by parents or guardians, such as mandatory uniforms, which can act as barriers for the poorest families. Another critique launched against Kenya public schools is that they are underrepresented in slums and poorer villages, drawing the charge that the policy could be better aligned to help Kenya’s poorest children.

The Future of African Welfare Programs

Many other African states are moving alongside Kenya and Tanzania in establishing what can be called African welfare programs and systems. In 2013, Senegal launched a cash transfers program that now assists around 20 percent of the nation’s poorest households. The Ghanaian and Zambian governments have both taken recent steps to raise revenue for child benefits. Wealthier nations like South Africa and Botswana are building on their existing welfare systems as well.

African welfare programs are emerging far earlier than those in European, Asian or Latin American nations when considered these programs in terms of Gross National Income (GNI). So far, all indications suggest they are helping lift the poorest from dire poverty and are boosting the economy through buoyed consumer spending. Welfare is not going to eliminate poverty on its own, but it may speed along its decline and improve lives as it does so.

– Jamie Wiggan

Photo: Unsplash

starving to death
Whale hunting in Japan is immaterial to feeding the population. As a result, many wonder why the nation continues to practice the antiquated ritual, while a bulk of its citizens are starving and fighting an uphill battle against the national welfare program. Japan’s current poverty rate is 15.3 percent, and more than 19 million citizens are living below the poverty line.

Welfare and Whale Hunting in Japan

The Japanese government has defended whaling practices by claiming that the practice is a part of the ancient Japanese culture. From the 1940s to the mid-1960s, whales were the biggest source of meat for the Japanese people. This was due to food shortages throughout the country. The government found an inexpensive solution in canning whale meat and serving in the government-funded national school lunch programs. At the highest point of the hunt, 24,000 whales were killed in just one year.

However, the economic climate has shifted. Japan has one of the wealthiest economies in the world and can easily afford to import meat from the United States or Australia. Currently, with Japan leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the financial burden of whaling will again fall on taxpayers. Expenditure of citizens’ tax money on whaling is justified by classifying whaling as research. The International Court of Justice has disproved Japan’s research claims, yet, funding that could be allocated to other benefits, like welfare, continues to be allocated to the practice.

According to a poll in 2015, the average consumption by the Japanese people of whale meat was just one ounce per person. Whale meat in Japanese cuisine has only been popular post World War II, and it would be categorized as nostalgia food by older generations. Nevertheless, Japan continues to fund whaling with $50 million annually. Regarding the Japanese welfare system, the central government acknowledges 75 percent of the costs, and Japan is planning on cutting back even further to their system.

When it comes to welfare,  Japanese citizens do not have the right to be taken care of by the government. Welfare in Japan is most commonly utilized by either the elderly, single mothers or handicapped citizens. Currently, there are five million unemployed Japanese citizens. Since 2008, the Japanese government has tried to make acquiring government assistance more manageable. However, most applicants are obliged to ask their family for help before applying, and impoverished people who are physically capable of working are still ineligible.  Professor Hiroshi Sugimura from Hoesei University in Tokyo said: “Local governments tend to believe that using taxpayer money to help people in need is doing a disservice to the citizens, only those who pay taxes are citizens.” The government currently gives 3.4 trillion Yen to welfare a year, but this only amounts to 10 percent of all tax revenues.

With the strict guidelines of the welfare program, people in need often slip through the cracks. Just in the past ten years alone, 700 Japanese citizens have starved to death, most of them elderly people. While the poverty rate in Japan does not reach the global levels (nearly 3.4 billion people, or half of the world’s population, struggle to meet basic needs),  Japan is currently in the lowest category of children in need, with the OECD estimating there are 3.5 million Japanese children who are living in relative poverty.

What Is Being Done?

An organization called Second Harvest provides the only nationwide food bank in Japan. Since 2002, Second Harvest has been food security for the needy. It delivers to children’s homes, women’s shelters and handicapped facilities. Second Harvest also works tirelessly with companies to acquires left-over food that is still edible and recycles it into free meals.

The Japanese government supports the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which is to bring hunger to zero by the year 2030. Japan is putting forth procedures that will help build a sustainable society and help with social improvements. By incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals, Japan is hoping to prioritize ancillary benefits, far removed from previous oversight, promoting human rights for every citizen.

The heated issue of whale hunting in Japan and the hunger of its citizens has been recognized by the Japanese government. Acknowledging the fact that many citizens are starving to death, and few are interested in eating whale meat, is an impetus for the government to remedy the issue. Solutions are being established and proposed on a regular basis, and with time. these two issues will be combatted and Japan’s healing as a nation will happen quickly.

– Jennifer O’Brien
Photo: Google

Facts About Poverty in Sweden

Scandinavian countries such as Sweden can often be seen as the golden standard of the struggle against poverty. With such low levels of poverty, Sweden has implemented many successful strategies to eradicate poverty. However, a deeper look into the reality of poverty in Sweden reveals that the country is not the utopia it is often made out to be.

Six Facts About Poverty in Sweden

  1. While Sweden prides itself on transparency, the country’s poverty statistics have been called into question. Although recent government reports have indicated zero absolute poverty, a recent Sweden City Missions report suggests that many basic poverty interventions still involve delivery of essential food and clothing needs. According to Sveriges Stadsmissioner, 62 percent of Sweden’s 200,000 basic interventions still focus on providing basic sustenance.
  2. According to the Swedish government, programs addressing poverty in Sweden take a multifaceted approach. They include long-term benefits such as pension, healthcare and expansive family benefits. These programs do an excellent job of addressing poverty, not with a one-size-fits-all solution, but with various approaches adapting to different beneficiaries.
  3. Despite these programs, a recent University College study suggests that many of those who receive short-term, “get back on your feet” benefits, which are designed for short-term empowerment, use these benefits for anywhere from 5 to fifteen years. The National Board of Health and Welfare indicates that a third of short-term benefit recipients end up receiving these benefits for longer than intended.
  4. Statistics portraying poverty in Sweden can also ignore citizens that qualify for benefits but do not receive them. This is one of the downfalls of the nation’s robust welfare state. With such a massive bureaucracy to navigate, many citizens are simply unable to complete the necessary forms to receive the benefits they qualify for.
  5. Poverty in Sweden is not just limited to its citizens. With nearly 1,500 refugees entering Sweden every week, the government’s welfare system is being stretched. If the current rate of immigration continues, nearly 2 percent of the Swedish population will soon be refugees. In desperate need of help, these refugees have completed arduous journeys often stretching for thousands of miles and many months. Since they have little to begin with, refugees who settle in Sweden need welfare to assist with nearly every facet of life.
  6. Sweden measures its poverty in terms of absolute poverty (income of $2 per day), rather than relative poverty (less than 60 percent of median income). This means that those who are making barely enough to eat two meals a day are not considered to be in absolute poverty. While a zero absolute poverty level is commendable, statistics portraying poverty in Sweden do not necessarily discuss those who live in relative poverty – many of these people cannot afford much more than a single bottle of water.

Sweden can be looked to and praised for its expansive welfare state and statistical lack of poverty. However, poverty in Sweden still exists, and the country’s official statistics often fail to reflect the reality.

– Sam Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

 

 

Social Safety Nets in Asia
Regardless of its title—alms, gifts, handouts, welfare, aid—the true meaning of social safety nets is not universally accepted in the developing world. As a useful form of poverty reduction, there are several purported reasons as to why “charity” is regarded as wasteful spending. One is the belief that social assistance programs diminish incentives to work and create dependency on the program’s benefits into the foreseeable future.

The Issues with Social Safety Nets in Asia

The myth of “crutch economies” being the bane of current work ethic and the cause of further, more established and resilient poverty, appears to be losing its already slippery empirical footing. Recent studies conducted by the World Bank in countries such as Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines have found no evidence that workers who receive assistance go on to work less. Instead, social safety nets routinely form a stable barrier for further slides into economic degradation in developing countries.

But spending on them still appears to be minimal. Although the levels of spending as a percentage of GDP varies across countries, spending on social safety nets in Asia, South and East Asia especially, is relatively low. The developing world on average spends 1.5 percent of its GDP on some form of welfare programs. South Asia, meanwhile, spends only 0.9 percent of GDP on social safety nets.

In lieu of more conventional welfare programs, the region has relied instead on more customary and time-tested economic assistance programs. A mix of ample growth, a youthful population and a devoted and helping family has filled the void of official government social safety nets in Asia.

While an admirable economic support system, there are more modern social safety net programs that do not become victim to the “crutch economy” fears. A unique pension plan in Mexico is disproving both the myth of diminishing work ethic and future drags on the economy due to dependency.

The Older Adults Program in Mexico

Pension plans provide better well-being later in life, as they allow people to project their current earnings into the future. But the regency of informal labor in developing countries has made large-scale worker contribution plans rather toothless in practice. Instead, Latin American countries are trying a pension program that targets age and income and does not rely on the contributions of workers. This form of social security could encourage Asian countries to provide a more substantial safety net at home.

Removing the fear of falling into abject poverty, or burdening close relatives once workers are removed from the labor market, is the goal of the Older Adults Program (OAP) in Mexico. The OAP is a noncontributory universal pension system for elderly Mexicans living in small towns. Initiated in 2007, the program took only four years to cover 2.1 million elderly people in 76,000 communities in Mexico. A recent study of the OAP by the International Development Bank (IDB) helps dispel the myth of crutch economies.

One concern of social safety nets in Asia is that they instill a sense of complacency in the younger population. Expecting to receive future income from the program’s benefits, the pension warps the savings and work ethic of the younger generations. The IDB’s study, however, found no evidence of such dependence. These “anticipation effects” that are widely feared and cited by critics of social safety nets were not backed up with any empirical findings. Negative labor supply effects of working age citizens was not a side effect of the pension plan for the elderly.

Work ethic among the elderly was not negatively affected either. Although beneficiaries working for pay in the official labor force dropped, this was more than compensated for by the rise in informal, unpaid family business employment. Rather than sapping their willingness to work, the pension program transferred those efforts to where families deemed most urgent.

The Coming of Age in Asia

But despite the lack of spending, there is hope that social safety nets in Asia will soon grow in usage and acceptance. This is already the case in Indonesia and the Philippines, even if they are outliers in the region.

A cash-transfer scheme in the Philippines, having covered four percent of the population in 2009, increased coverage to 20 percent in 2015. A similar scheme in Indonesia has grown in coverage from two percent of the population in 2009 to nine percent in 2016 with help from the World Bank.

In Indonesia, the payments from the Family Hope Program provide benefits to those in the bottom 10 percent of income distribution. Benefits are available to households with a pregnant mother or a child between the ages of zero to 18. Assistance focuses on promoting education and health of the family. The cash payments are made only if beneficiary households keep children enrolled in school and respond to health issues by taking children to clinics.

As promising as the Family Hope Program is, other countries in Asia have yet to adequately address welfare programs relative to other regions of the world. A fear of diminishing labor supply motivation and perpetual dependency on benefits should not deter the acceptance and administration of social safety nets.

Other than evidence-based research, there is one persuasive reason for adopting more widespread social safety nets in Asia: human kindness. Harry Truman, commenting in 1946, said, “The word ‘charity’ has regained its old, true meaning—that of goodwill toward one’s fellowman; of brotherhood, of mutual help, of love.” Until that is realized, the world will have to rely on empirical arguments to persuade decision makers that social safety nets are necessary.

– Nathan Ghelli
Photo: Flickr

Welfare Programs in Ethiopia
Policy in Ethiopia has overwhelmingly been focused on combating and eliminating poverty in recent years. Many programs in Ethiopia have helped to further the country’s station in terms of poverty reduction. Programs such as the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), the Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program (SDPRP) and the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) have been implemented recently to help Ethiopia meet its short and long-term goals. These goals, known as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, are to:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Gender equality and women empowerment
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Reduce maternal mortality
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Correspondingly, according to the United Nations, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development in Ethiopia report, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, Ethiopia has worked towards these goals for several years now and is on track to achieve six of the eight goals listed above so far. The goal of reducing child mortality has already been achieved, and progress is being made on many of the others thanks to the work of the welfare programs in Ethiopia.

Goal One: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Ethiopia is on course to reduce extreme poverty in the country by half. The percentage of people living under the poverty line has decreased from 45.5 percent in 1996 to 29.6 percent in 2010. The welfare programs in Ethiopia have contributed to this progress in different ways. The PSNP has helped families avoid food shortages. The SDPRP focuses on increasing water resource utilization to ensure food security. The PASDEP strengthens human resource development, manages risk and creates employment opportunities.

Goal Two: Achieve Universal Primary Education

The net enrollment ratio for education in grades one through eight has increased from 77.5 percent in 2006 to 85.4 percent in 2011. The attendance ratio has also risen from 30.2 percent in 2001 to 64.5 percent in 2010.

Goal Six: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

Ethiopia has achieved a greater decrease in disease prevalence than anticipated. In 2010, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS was an estimated 1.5 percent, lower than the Millennium Development Goal of 2.5 percent.

Goal Seven: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

With the Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy, Ethiopia has taken necessary steps towards integrating the principles of sustainable agricultural development. The SDPRP has aided the progress of governance and the transformation of society by improving the framework and provisions enabling environmental and private sector growth. It also focuses on agricultural research, water harvesting and small-scale irrigation.

Goals three and five of the Millennium Development Goals lack progress and are struggling to be realized. Entrenched traditional views of women in the nation are among the obstacles that these programs encounter. However, on the whole, the employment of these programs in Ethiopia has decreased the overall issue of poverty and have moved the country forward in terms of development.

– Lydia Lamm

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