ANTI-POVERTY STRATEGIES WITH REFERENCE TO THE DISADVANTAGED SECTIONS OF...
ANTI-POVERTY STRATEGIES WITH REFERENCE TO THE
DISADVANTAGED SECTIONS OF THE COMMUNITY*
V. J. RAM
Introduction
The shares of national income for capital
and corporate bodies far outweigh those for
Causes of poverty are well known. For labour. For instance, modern medicine,
the sake of refreshing our memory and modern transport and other inventions of
leading up to the question of strategies for science and technology, which are often
combating it, let me review a few of the subsidized in large measure out of tax
major ones.
revenues, are apt to serve the affluent rather
Despite certain arguments to the con-
than the poor. On close scrutiny, we also
trary there is no denying that poverty is find that such crucial opportunities in our
largely caused by systemic inadequacies lives as, for example, education, health care,
of our societies. This may not have been cultural development, social contacts and
the case much earlier in history but has political participation are much more easily
glaringly been so in the industrial era. Over accessible to those who already have them
the past centuries, our societies have deve-
than to those who do not, and are, there-
loped systems and processes of resource fore, badly in need of them. With the
allocation and /or distribution which favour advent of the technological age, even the
certain groups at the expense of others. Our life-giving and life-sustaining benefits of
economic systems are built that way; our sun and air and the beauty of nature,
social structures have been evolved that which are presumed to favour each and all
way; our political systems have been de-
equally, serve the rich who can pick and
signed in support of that way; and our choose a place to live better than the poor
cultural mores and even religious credos who have no such choice.
often reinforce that way. Many govern-
In this day of multinational corporations,
ments may subsidize and sustain giant the pattern of resource allocation and
corporations on the verge of collapse, benefit distribution suggested above extends
presumably fearing the effects of such col-
beyond national boundaries and the small
lapse on the overall national economy, but but affluent, powerful and otherwise ad-
few governments subsidize individuals, vantaged sectors of our societies are in-
families and communities on the verge of creasingly being absorbed into a world-wide
collapse due to hunger, sickness or home-
socio-economic and political system work-
lessness on the same scale or with the same ing in their favour, thus dichotomizing not
attitude as when subsidizing industry des-
only national societies but the global one
pite the far-reaching human and social as well.
consequences their collapse would generate.
On another dimension, one observes the
In many countries, dividends of eco-
relationship between automation and un-
nomic growth and benefits of moderni-
employment leading to poverty. Po-
zation tend to go to those who already pulation explosion and its effect on
"have" rather than to those who "have not". employment, the link between poverty
* Talk by Dr. V. J. Ram, Chief Social Development Division, United Nations, Thailand,
at Plenary Session IV, on Sub theme III.

ANTI-POVERTY STRATEGIES WITH REFERENCE TO THE DISADVANTAGED SECTIONS 365
and family size via the wage system, etc., poverty from systemic ones. As it was
constitute still another dimension of syste-
indicated, natural disasters may be the
mic inadequacy contributing to poverty. result of human activities or the machina-
Also not to be overlooked is the dimen-
tions of our societies and, certainly in many
sion of the modern way of life and work instances, natural disaster needs not be as-
caught up in an interrelated process of in-
sociated with poverty as long as societies
dustrialization, urbanization and mechani-
are willing and able to prevent such an
zation, increasing the risks of accident, association from occurring. For example,
mental stress and other hazards which there is no reason why tens of thousands
lead many men and women to poverty of people, including children, should
every day. The agricultural sector is not perish from hunger in those parts of the
necessarily exempt from this predicament. earth affected by severe droughts, given the
It suffers physical and socio-economic dis-
abundant food supplies available around
locations and losses in the process of in-
the world and the jet age transport facili-
dustrialization and urbanization in addi-
ties, except for the fact that the world
tion to their more common effects such as system as it exists today cannot or would
those just mentioned.
not respond to them in an adequate way.
Finally, there is the simple failure on
With reference to personal causes of
the part of our social systems to respond poverty, we are aware of the close link
to simple socio-economic requirements as between childhood diet and the develop-
exemplified in erroneous projections of crop ment of the brain, as well as that between
yields, fuel needs, market behaviour, birth nutrition and the capacity for learning and
rate etc., breakdown of transportation sys-
task performance. Low mental aptitude,
tems, bureaucratic malfunctions, irrationa-
lack of trade skills, and even "laziness",
lity of social institutions and cultural in other words, may be the result as well
biases, among numerous others, all of as part of the causes of poverty locked in
which directly or indirectly contribute to a process of mutual reinforcement.
the breeding and the perpetuation of
In short, there are sufficient grounds for
poverty.
assuming that poverty is caused by the in-
That poverty is often attributable to na-
adequacies of our socio-economic and poli-
tural causes such as drought, excessive tical systems, and that any strategy aiming
rainfall, earthquake, and other natural dis-
to deal with it must, therefore, seek to
asters, as well as to certain normal human overcome these inadequacies above all.
conditions such as extreme youth and
If we accept this view, in devising
aging, needs no elaboration. Nor does the strategies to combat poverty we would have
fact that poverty can result from certain to start by discarding the assumption that
personal attributes such as low level of economic growth and development will
intelligence, lack of employment skills, pre-
automatically lead to its eradication. Eco-
ference for a large family despite a small nomic development can alleviate the con-
family income, poor physical conditions or ditions of absolute poverty to some degree,
illness, preference for life styles not con-
but not to the extent, demanded by reality.
ducive to financial security, etc. My con-
As far as relative poverty is concerned, eco-
sideration of these causes of poverty shall nomic development is likely to aggravate
therefore be limited to one simple observa-
rather than ameliorate it. The situation to
tion: In this day and age, it is difficult to be found in some of the wealthiest coun-
separate the natural and personal causes of tries in the world as well as in many deve-

366
V. J. RAM
loping countries attests to this.
sion of basic services such as safe drinking
An alternative assumption must therefore water, sewage system, vaccination, compul-
accept the necessity of either modifying the sory education, adequate public transporta-
existing socio-economic system itself to tion system, etc., are all among such mea-
remove or minimize its poverty-causing sures one way or another. While it will be
inadequacies or compensating for such in-
highly useful to review the various and
adequacies to a degree and in a manner often serious problems still involved in or
adequate. To be sure, many countries have associated with these measures which ren-
already resorted to anti-poverty strategies der them ineffective or only partially effec-
based on this assumption, in some instances tive, I am constrained on this occasion to
successfully and in others reluctantly and give thought to only those which have not
ineffectively. For instance, many countries yet been seriously attempted, at least not
adopted universal compulsory education in the particular context being proposed.
systems, but not up to a level where it will Before going on to discuss them, however,
make a difference in terms of anti-poverty let me qualify their potentials by observing
impact. Its implementation is also often that the type of anti-poverty strategy re-
haphazard, reducing its anti-poverty poten-
quired and feasible is closely related to the
tial even further. For another instance, level of economy and the degree of indus-
most of our countries have one type or trialization, as it is related to the overall
another of progressive income tax struc-
social objectives sought by a country or a
tures supposedly designed to even up in-
people, of which eradication of poverty is
come disparity. But the "loopholes" in them a part.
and the nature of other components of the
tax system as a whole are such that it is A. Integration of the Poor in the Main-
usually ineffective as a measure of redis-
stream of Economic and Social De-
tribution. For still another instance, there
velopment
are the familiar public assistance measures
which, although supposedly to ameliorate
This is easier said than done. But if we
poverty, have no real power to do so. If grant that the strategy of reaching the
anything, they tend to perpetuate it by poor indirectly through either a "trickle
sustaining the poor in that condition. What down" or a "proliferation" effect of aggre-
we are looking for in anti-poverty strate-
gate economic growth and development is
gies, therefore, are not only systemic modi-
not really viable, then a strategy designed
fications and compensations per se but to reach them directly would seem to be
certain decisive degrees of them.
the logical alternative. But what concrete
We are familiar with anti-poverty mea-
steps or measures should such a strategy
sures pertaining to socio-economic pro-
entail? In answering this question, we can
blems. Land reform, co-operative movement,
draw on some of our past experiences as
construction of reservoirs, wells, irrigation well as break new ground. First of all,
canals, roads and highways and provision such a strategy would call for providing
of pumps and fertilizers, expansion and /or
the poor simultaneously with: (i) adequate
acceleration of economy and the creation economic opportunities which will assure
of jobs, stabilization of commodity prices them decent livelihood, (ii) skills, know-
in general and the cost of living in parti-
ledge and other abilities useful in making
cular, dispersion of industry and other effective use of such opportunities, and (iii)
enterprises to underdeveloped areas, provi-
the resources needed to do so, including

ANTI-POVERTY STRATEGIES WITH REFERENCE TO THE DISADVANTAGED SECTIONS 367
funds, equipment and facilities.
part and parcel of an overall, economic
With regards to the first provision, at policy geared to expanding employment
least two alternatives would seem open. opportunities such as through labour-inten-
One is to bring suitable economic activities, sive production methods and the opening
which may be agricultural or industrial, to up of new economic sectors or the expan-
where the poor are. This would involve not sion of old ones.
only dispersing industry and other develop-
Whichever of the alternatives may be
ment projects to economically depressed chosen, the second and the third provisions
areas or communities but also to design of the strategy to integrate the poor in the
and carry out such activities in a manner socio-economic mainstream, i.e. skills,
which will help to develop as well as uti-
knowledge and other abililities which will
lize the community potentials, whether they enable the poor to make use of economic
be in terms of manpower, raw materials, opportunities accessible to them and the
energy source or market outlets.
resources with which to do so are equally
The other is to generate economic activi-
important. An intensive and on-going train-
ties from within the depressed areas or ing not only to instill skills required by the
communities. This might be possible community or the community-based enter-
through initiatives on the part of certain prise but to foster an attitude and a life
individuals in the community or on a co-
style which will make participation in the
operative basis, although a mix of these community enterprise effective and mean-
two may be more likely in many instances. ingful in more than monetary terms would
In Asia, we have at least several anti-
have to accompany the launching of such
poverty-cum-community development mo-
an enterprise. As for resources, it is im-
dels of this nature. From experience with portant that they be provided on well jus-
these models and other experiences, a set tified grounds, that is, according to care-
of conditions which must be met if co-
fully thought out plans formulated with the
operative or communal economic enter-
broadest possible participation of the poor
prises are to be successful seem to be themselves. It is also important that, once
emerging. They are that: (i) such commu-
the resource inputs have been adjudged
nity effort be part of a national drive sup-
necessary, they be provided at the right time
ported by policy, administrative back-stop-
and to a sufficient degree to serve the pur-
ping and resource inputs, (ii) it be based pose. One might also add that community
on a plan closely tailored to each com-
enterprises too marginal in scope and in
munity's socio economic development en-
overall economic viability, such as certain
deavour which aims toward attitudinal and types of cottage industry, cash crops, live-
structural changes on the part of the com-
stock raising, etc., might help the poor to
munities concerned, (iii) it be based on continue in their marginal existence but
authentic participation of the poor them-
cannot serve as their vehicle for joining
selves, and (iv) it be linked with the na-
the mainstream.
tional economy as a whole, whether in
Developing community-based economic
terms of finance and banking, consumer activities would require a strong national
demands, marketing system or commodity policy encouraging the collaboration and
pricing.
linkage between the poor communities con-
It goes without saying that the above cerned and the relevant economic sectors
alternative to providing the poor with because, without it, such collaboration and
viable economic opportunities should be linkage would have a hard time materia-

368
V. J. RAM
lizing in most societies. Undertaking such great magnitude.
activities would also necessitate evolving
Integration of the aged in anti-poverty
and organizing the community infrastruc-
measures is important for at least three rea-
ture, which can be difficult and time con-
sons. One, along with the women and chil-
suming but well worth the effort in moti-
dren, they are most likely to be among the
vated and resourceful communities.
poor. Any socio-economic measure sup-
The strategy of integrating the poor in posedly on their behalf should, therefore, be
the socio-economic mainstream would also designed and carried out with as much of
entail involving the hitherto neglected but their participation as possible. Two, many
potentially most promising population sec-
of the aged are still quite productive. This
tors such as women, youth and the aged productivity should be utilized to the maxi-
in anti-poverty programmes as well as in mum. And, three, to involve the aged and
the overall national development process. to utilize their ability in their own interest,
We know that in most countries of the re-
is a natural way of sustaining them as fully
gion, women contribute to the growth of na-
functioning members of a community or a
tional economy as much as men, although society.
their share in national income may not
The last point I wish to make in con-
suggest this. We also know that in those nection with the strategy of integrating the
few countries of the region which have poor is in the nature of a generalized re-
achieved notable success in rural develop-
statement of what have already been
ment through community approach, women touched upon above, namely, their parti-
played important and, in some respects, cipation. This is a much studied and dis-
crucial roles. But, even without these ex-
cussed subject so that one need not dwell
periences to guide us, the simple recogni-
on it. But a couple of observations bear
tion that women constitute half of any reiteration.
population, they are key members of
It is often said, on the one hand, that the
families who carry out such vital func-
poor are too ignorant, too apathetic and
tions as child-rearing, including the in-
too much in the grip of old habits and
stillation of values, mores and habits which ways of life to be able to help themselves.
form the basis of its future attitudes It is said on the other hand, that it is no
toward life and work, management of the use pouring in assistance to them because
well-being of other family members, nei-
their capacity to utilize it is limited. And
ghbourhood and community relations, etc., many experiences in the anti-poverty drive
and they can be as potent an economic would seem to support this view. But, in
force as men, given the chance, is enough the region and elsewhere, there are insta-
to convince us that involving women in the nces which refute this view, instances of
effort to alleviate poverty is a must.
uneducated and apathetic poor communities
The case for involving youth is equally propelling themselves out of their old trap.
cogent. They are, in general, not only the Among the factors which seemed to have
most energetic and creative sector of the made the difference in these latter instances
population, but in most developing coun-
are: (i) the right incentives, adequate and
tries, they are also the best educated and tangible enough to motivate the poor
,the most highly motivated. The tendency on toward self mobilization. (ii) clearly, if
the part of many societies to dismiss them flexibly, defined structure of participation
as immature, inexperienced and unreliable which will enable them to mobilize purpose-
would therefore seem a misjudgement of fully and effectively: and (iii) external sup-

ANTI-POVERTY STRATEGIES WITH REFERENCE TO THE DISADVANTAGED SECTIONS 369
port which can be crucial in rendering their indifference to human suffering and debase-
self-mobilization fruitful. There is no ment would be self-defeating, to say the
"Source book" which can tell us in full least. Specifically with reference to making
what such incentives, structures of partici-
a product cost competitive, what seems to
pation and external support should be like, be usually left out of consideration is the
but one shortcut to finding out would be possibility of narrowing capital's share
to put the questions to the poor themselves of the profit. There is no reason why cost
and let them find their own answers competitiveness should be achieved prima-
through a process of self-mobilization and rily on low wages. There is the question of
participation. A priest with considerable capital investment needs, but in this day
experiences with the poor in South America and age, how many entrepreneurs rely on
once said to the effect that even the most their own capital only? In fact, major in-
illiterate knows what is good for him and dustries, especially in developing countries,
he has no problem grasping the chance to depend on government guaranteed loans
attain it if such ever comes his way.
and subsidies, which is to say, on public
support. Capital investment needs as such,
B. Minimum Income Security Net
therefore, cannot entirely justify the below
subsistence level wages of many countries.
Even while many of the poor may suc-
Along with the argument in favour of a
cessfully engage in community-based eco-
living wage, a case can be made in
nomic activities and others not so based, support of a need-based or family size-based
for those who are not entrepreneurs them-
wage system. But this too is a familiar
selves but wage workers, employment per argument requiring no elaboration. What
se is no guarantee against poverty. Millions matters is that our societies must come up
of people including women, children and with a plan to assure a minimum adequate
the aged are in jobs which perpetuate them level of living to all their members. This
in poverty. It is unfair on any scale that means that the more conventional "social
someone giving everything one has on a security" measures consisting of social in-
job should be paid for his effort a small surance, public assistance etc., must be ex-
fraction of what goes to another person panded in coverage, significantly raised in
perhaps doing his best on another job or benefit level, and augmented by measures
on the other side of the employer-em-
of income supplement, free education, low
ployee relationship. This unfair practice of cost health service, housing, public trans-
income sharing is usually rationalized on portation, day care services, and other ap-
the basis of the principle of supply and propriate measures. As a matter of practi-
demand and the cost competitiveness, in cality, and as a matter of principle, our
other words, on market principle. But it is societies can no longer afford to let the poor
well known that market principle in its wait until the development process reaches
strict sense is not really operative anywhere them in its own good time.
any more, if it ever was. Even if it were,
it is one of the most dehumanizing princi-
C. Other Systemic Changes
ples man had in his nature to invest and
adhere to. If the ultimate aim of human
As either pre-conditions or concomitant
activities is to make us and our societies of the above two strategies, at least
more truly human, continued reliance on four other types of systemic change would
this principle to rationalize our societies' seem to be called for. To cite without ela-

370
V. J. RAM
boration, they are:
pite the massive infusion of resources into
numerous development programmes all over
(a) Abolition of all types of class systems the world. This failure of past develop-
which prevent upward mobility on ment efforts to eradicate poverty perhaps
the part of those belonging to the attests that without redressing the inadequa-
wrong category;
cies of existing socio-economic and politi-
(b) abolition of Socio-cultural mores and cal systems, no amount of development
taboos which deprive a large popu-
programmes and related resource inputs
lation sector of the opportunities can reach the poor. In the foregoing, cer-
for fuller economic and social par-
tain systemic changes to modify or com-
ticipation;
pensate for these inadequacies have been
(c) changing the political structure to suggested. But, clearly, these changes can-
make it responsive to the needs of not occur without first reordering the
the majority which are also often global and national development priorities
poor and underprivileged; and
in favour of the poor nations and the poor
(d) changing the existing international sectors.
economic order in favour of the
It has been said that such reorder-
poor nations, particularly their poor ing of priorities will necessitate above
sectors.
all a political will on the part of the so-
cieties concerned. But if "political will"
It is more than three decades since the carries the connotation of a value choice
world community has resolved to conquer or a moral decision, then I am obliged to
poverty through "development". While assert that such a view is misleading be-
some countries have made conspicuous cause, today, eradication of poverty is not
headways in this direction, most are still a matter of moral or ethical obligation but
far from reaching their goal. Furthermore, one of pragmatic necessity in both the eco-
in the overall world context of unprece-
nomic and political sense. It is this neces-
dented material affluence, the gap between sity which dictates the reordering of deve-
the rich and the poor is wider today des-
lopment priorities in favour of the poor.