Inclusivity comes first
In a recent forum about the future of the conditional cash transfer or “Pantawid” program, I began my comments by saying that I don’t really like the term “inclusive growth.”
What I favor is inclusivity, period. For a Rawlsian like me, more inclusivity is socially preferable to less inclusivity, regardless of growth.
Rawlsians are followers of the great philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002), author of “A Theory of Justice” (Harvard, 1971). Rawls imagined a global community of unborn souls, who know how the world works, but who do not know what will be their personal heritages at birth—their gender, race, nationality, socioeconomic status, religion, and so forth—due to a so-called “veil of ignorance.”
Rawls argued that the type of social contract freely acceptable to such ignorant souls would express minimum expectations, or rights, for all. Thus, the social contract would ban slavery and discrimination by race, gender, religion, etc. Its minimum economic expectation would be expressed by a poverty line. Economic wellbeing would be measured by the state of the poor or disadvantaged. The state of the rich would be irrelevant, except in cases where enjoyment of an advantage by the rich thereby improves the well-being of the poor.
Here is a recognizably Rawlsian definition: “Social justice, for us Filipinos, means a coherent, intelligible system of law, made known to us, enacted by a legitimate government freely chosen by us, and enforced fairly and equitably by a courageous, honest, impartial, and competent police force, legal profession and judiciary, that, first, respects our rights and our freedoms both as individuals and as a people; second, seeks to repair the injustices that society has inflicted on the poor by eliminating poverty as rapidly as our resources and ingenuity permit; third, develops a self-directed and self-sustaining economy that distributes its benefits to meet, at first, the basic material needs of all, but particularly for the lower-income groups, with time enough and space to allow them to take part in and to enjoy our culture; fourth, changes our institutions and structures, our ways of doing things and relating to each other, so that whatever inequalities remain are not caused by those institutions or structures, unless inequality is needed temporarily to favor the least favored and its cost is borne by the most favored; and fifth, adopts means and processes that are capable of attaining these objectives.”—Jose W. Diokno, “A Nation for Our Children” (1983).
Pantawid is the only antipoverty program that has a formal, technical, system of targeting individual poor families (see my “Pantawid: 71 percent bull’s-eyes,” Inquirer, 7/20/2013). Extending this targeted program signals government sincerity in helping the poor. Stopping the program signals the opposite.
Pantawid is designed to produce significant improvements in incomes of the poor when the beneficiary children enter the work force. This will be after a few years, not immediately. The children would then be healthier and better schooled than their parents were at the same stage of life. The government should make projections of future income-poverty, for alternative scales of Pantawid.
But poverty should be evaluated realistically and compassionately. Poverty has degrees. It is a matter of more or less, not merely present (“poor”) or absent (“not-poor”). For the same amount of added income, helping a family in deep poverty should count for more than helping one in shallow poverty. Helping the near-poor must also count for something.
Bear in mind that the official poverty line is very stingy. One result is that, in the National Capital Region as of the first semester of 2012, the officially poor families are only 3.8 percent and the officially food-poor families are only 1.1 percent. Is it true that NCR poverty is virtually extinguished? I don’t think so.
The poor don’t eat statistics, obviously. Stomachs don’t get fuller simply by lowering the official food-poverty line. Neither are they emptier simply because SWS’ hunger figures are higher than official ones. The function of statistics is to give meaningful, reliable, and, above all, timely signals about what is happening.
To make its poverty line realistic, the government should also make “non-food menus” to show minimum needs for electricity, water, housing, clothing, and public transportation. Charitable organizations know about such standards. I think local governments and people’s organizations should also monitor Pantawid inclusion and exclusion, set their own poverty lines, and estimate poverty in their own areas.
At the forum, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said that planning for the extension of Pantawid had begun as early as 2011, midway into the program. High school students will get P500 per month, versus the present P300 for elementary students. The Pantawid extension will add two million children, age 15-18, to the current 8.5 million of all ages in the program. The extra funding was made possible by the improvement in the government’s credit rating.
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The paper “After five years of Pantawid, what next?” by Vicente Paqueo, Aniceto Orbeta, Tarsicio Castañeda and Chris Spohr was presented at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies on July 31, 2013. Dr. Paqueo is the top Filipino specialist on conditional cash transfers. The paper is available from PIDS.
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