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Wealth, consumption inequality widens in Bangladesh

Staff Correspondent
11 Oct 2023 17:54:42 | Update: 11 Oct 2023 22:12:13
Wealth, consumption inequality widens in Bangladesh
File photo of Distinguished Fellow of CPD and convener of Citizen Platform Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya — Collected/CPD

Over the past 15 years, Bangladesh has experienced a growth in wealth and consumption and the inequality between wealth and consumption also widened, said Distinguished Fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and convener of the Citizen Platform, Debapriya Bhattacharya on Wednesday.

Speaking at a media briefing on 'Citizen Agenda for Inclusive Development and Equity: Education, Health, Climate Change, and Social Security' held at the BRAC Centre in the capital, Debapriya Bhattacharya also addressed the expanding inequalities in wealth, consumption, and access to state benefits. He emphasized that marginalized populations have faced challenges in education, health, and consumption.

“Inequality not only in wealth or money but also in consumption and getting state benefits has widened over the years. Backward people could not be pioneers in terms of education, health, and consumption,” Debapriya said.

The latest Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) reveals an increase in the Gini coefficient, with income inequality surging from 0.482 in 2016 to 0.499 in 2022. Consumption inequality also grew from 0.324 in 2016 to 0.334 in 2022. The Gini coefficient, or Gini index, is used to measure income, wealth, or consumption inequality within a nation or a social group. It ranges from 0 (perfect equality) to 1 (perfect inequality).

The government data supports Debapriya's assertion that wealth and consumption inequality in Bangladesh has widened over the years.

Another CPD Distinguished Fellow Professor Mostafizur Rahman conducted the briefing with Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam in the chair.

Three separate presentations on education, health, and climate-related topics were released during the event.

In response to a question, Debapriya Bhattacharya highlighted that the middle-class society in Bangladesh has weakened, affecting the nation economically, politically, and culturally. The decline of the middle class has led to a loss of its significant role in shaping cultural and political values in Bangladesh.

Inequalities impede pry education

Mostafizur Rahman noted that growing income and asset inequalities have become major barriers to achieving universally acknowledged primary education, particularly for children from less affluent and advantaged groups.

He recommended ensuring adequate budget allocation for education, developing education laws, and gradually increasing the budgetary allocation for education from 15% to 20% of the national budget by 2026. He also suggested allocating a budget for teachers' training, increasing salaries, and enhancing other benefits to attract bright and talented graduates to the teaching profession.

Ensure quality drugs affordable

Yasmin H Ahmed, adviser at the Bangladesh Health Watch, recommended making quality drugs affordable to all and called on the government to review and expand the essential drug list while controlling drug prices. She also suggested reducing the prices of other drugs, accelerating in-country production of active ingredients, and installing a modern stock management system for drugs.

In the realm of healthcare, political will, adequate budgetary provision, including a 1% annual increase in budget allocation, enhanced spending efficiency, and increased primary healthcare spending to 35-40% of the budget, were cited as crucial for meaningful changes and the achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Identify community-led adaptation

Estiaque Bari, senior lecturer at the Department of Economics, East West University, recommended identifying community-led adaptation techniques based on local knowledge to address challenges posed by global warming. He also suggested introducing a special social safety net transfer program to support marginalized groups living in Haor areas.