Pandemic to raise number of poor in Philippines

Czeriza Valencia - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — As the government responds to the immediate impact of the pandemic, it should also begin to address the long-term impact on chronic poverty and school drop-out, according  to state-run think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

Poverty simulations suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic would increase the number of poor in the country.

“While the government provides social safety nets and emergency assistance programs to affected families, these are only temporary,” PIDS researchers said in the new discussion paper titled “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on poverty.”

With current incomes continuing to be below pre-pandemic levels, poverty incidence is expected to spike between 15.5 and 17.5 percent this year.

The PIDS said this pertains to the proportion of Filipinos  living below the poverty threshold of P10,727 monthly for a family of five in 2018, the minimum income needed to satisfy basic food and non-food needs.

Under these conditions, families that used to live on incomes above this threshold can become part of the chronic poor.

These so-called new poor, in turn, may cope with diminished incomes by withdrawing their children from school,

“This would have longer-term implications on the welfare of the household. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the recovery process for the economy is inclusive,” said the paper.

“Other measures such as wage subsidies or low-interest loans are needed to enable those who lost their jobs or closed their businesses to bounce back from the crisis as the new poor can become part of the chronic poor,” it said.

With a prolonged lockdown and limitations in the health sector, non-COVID health concerns may add to the burden of those who already lost their jobs.

PIDS said a universal health insurance with greater health benefits to include testing and vaccination would enable households to cope with future health-related public emergencies.

“Being one of the building blocks of a health system, having stronger health financing is a step toward greater healthcare access, leading to an improved health status and financial protection, which is particularly important in the face of hazards,” said the paper.

The think tank said current assistance programs in place are sufficient, but the targeting of beneficiaries need to be improved.

It recommended creating interoperable databases across all government departments and agencies to help target potential beneficiaries more accurately.

The government may consolidate all existing databases of government agencies that provide support programs.

Another suggestion is to expand, modify, or improve current assistance programs with established implementation processes rather than create new programs that will need new mechanisms for implementation.

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