Halima Begum, 39, a resident of Guita village in Taranagar union of Keraniganj upazila in Dhaka, applied for widow allowance. However, around one and a half months ago she came to know that new enlistment for widow allowance had been stalled.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, she said, “I am in dire straits. I earn Tk 2,000 by working in my brother-in-law’s house. It would have been a great help to me if I could get the allowance.”
Abdul Motalib, 69, a resident of no. 1 Porabasti area in the capital’s Kallyanpur area, said he had applied for old-age allowances at the office of the local councillor in phases. He lives in his daughter’s house. He is in hope that his name will be included in the list for old-age allowances one day.
When asked whether new enlistment for all the allowances except the disability allowances has been stopped or not, Abu Saleh, director general of the Department of Social Services, said, “It should be termed temporary suspension, rather than complete closure. We are still considering whether the number of beneficiaries should be increased with the same allowance or should the allowance be increased without increasing the number of beneficiaries. However, the directorate is in favour of increasing the number of beneficiaries.”
Asked when they will start including new beneficiaries under the programme, Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal said that it was a matter of policy decision and therefore the ministry would take the final decision regarding this.
Speaking to Prothom Alo on Monday night, Md Ashraf Ali, state minister for the Ministry of Social Welfare, said, “The process of new enlistment has not stopped. The work on covering all the widows and elderly people under the widow and old-age allowance programme is yet to be finished. After finishing these works the enlistment of new beneficiaries will start.”
Asked about the approximate date to start that, he said, “Let the work on updating the list in all the upazilas be finished first.”
Monthly requirement Tk 613 million
According to the figures of the social services directorate, the old-age allowance programme was launched in 1997-98 fiscal. The widow allowance programme started the next year. The numbers of beneficiaries under these two programmes has increased by 300,000 to 500,000 each year for the last few years. However, in the 2021-22 fiscal, some 801,000 new beneficiaries were included in the list for old-age allowance. And the number of beneficiaries under the widow allowance programme was increased by 425,000 in the same fiscal year.
According to the latest figures, the total number of beneficiaries under the old-age allowance programme is 5.71 million. And more than 2.47 million get the widow allowance.
The allocation for these two allowances this year is the same as the previous year. Some Tk 34.45 billion has been allocated for old-age allowance and over Tk 14.95 billion for widow allowances. If the number of beneficiaries of these allowances was increased like the previous year (2021-22 fiscal), then an extra amount of Tk 613 million would have been needed each month for the additional 1.23 million beneficiaries.
The listed beneficiaries have been receiving Tk 1,500 every three months as allowances for the last seven years. Only the men aged over 65 and women aged over 62 are eligible for this allowance.
Some 45 per cent of the total 120 social security programmes of the government are implemented by the social welfare ministry. Finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal proposed an allocation of Tk 1135.8 billion for this programme during the budget announcement for the current fiscal.
Beneficiaries of disability allowances increased
According to the figures of the social services directorates, the total number of beneficiaries of government provided allowances is more than 10,800,000 this year. Most of these are beneficiaries of old-age allowance, widow allowance and disability allowance. The number of beneficiaries of the disability allowance has increased by 357,000 to 2,365,000. The amount of allowance has also been increased to Tk 850 from 100 taka.
Besides, the number of beneficiaries under the ‘Tea Workers' Livelihood Development Programme’ has been increased to 60,000. However, families of the tea-workers get a lump sum of Tk 5,000 every year under this programme. One family is replaced by another family for next year’s allowance.
The other four allowance programmes are ‘living standard development programme for transgender community, programme for improving the living standard of underprivileged communities and programme for improving the living standard of the ‘Bede’ (nomad) communities. The allowances and stipends under these programmes are provided through the G2P process.
The number of training and post-training aid under this programme has lessened as compared to last year.
As the new enlistment is being stalled, the server for applying online has been kept closed. Speaking to Prothom Alo, Md Mahbubur Rahman, assistant director of the district social services office in Barisal, said, “There are nine upazilas and one pourashava in Barishal. All of these are 100 per cent covered under the old-age and widow allowance programme. However, we are not taking any new names this year as we are yet to get any instruction regarding this”
The online applications for disability allowances were accepted from 10 August to 10 September under extended quota. However, in some districts like Barishal a second initiative was taken for more applications for the disability allowance as the number of applicants was not enough.
Some five of the eight upazlias in Chandpur is 100 per cent covered under widow and old-age allowance programme. Shahdat Hossain, social services officer of Haziganj upazila in Chandpur said, “New applications for government allowances, except the disability allowance, are being accepted this year.”
He says some 16,588 are getting the old-age allowance and some 8,096 are getting the widow allowances in his upazila. New applications for these allowances were accepted last year. Some 600 people were newly included in the list for these two allowances.
Many come for inquiry
Md Mosharaf Hossain, union parishad chairman of Taranagar union in Keraniganj upazila in Dhaka, said, “Some 42 applications for widow and old-age allowance have been submitted in his union. More applications are being submitted every day. We will fix the next course of action once we get any instruction from the social services directorate.”
“People come very often to enquire about their applications and we tell them the truth. Many use the money from the allowances to buy medicine; many spend it to bear their own expenses.”
Shamima Akhter, an assistant at the office of the local councillor in the capital’s Kallyanpur area, said the social service directorate had not asked for the new list for the old-age allowance as yet. The directorate had asked for names for some four allowance cards, which had been provided.
“However, none of the new applicants are being returned. We are accepting the new applications.”
People need more assistance now
Bazlul Haque Khondker, chairman of private institution South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM), thinks there shouldn’t be any change in the social security sector.
He told Prothom Alo that the reason behind not including new names in the list for government allowances could be lack of allocation or flaws in the process of providing the allowances. Probably, the government is trying to extend the period of spending.
Bazlul Haque Khondker said, “People’s purchasing capacity has shrunk due to inflation. Many have become poor in recent times. They need even more assistance. They should be included in the government allowances facilities. Right at this moment, the government should assist the poor, even if the money needs to be arranged from another sector.”
*This reports appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu