Extreme poverty eradication programmes need overhaul, say researchers

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A recent study on extreme poverty eradication programmes in Kerala by researchers at The Centre for Socio-Economic and Environmental Studies in Kochi has called for substantial changes in the programmes, including the integration of two programmes running concurrently and making agencies like Kudumbashree Poverty Eradication Mission more inclusive.

The researchers studied sample households under Agathi Rahitha Keralam (Destitute-free Kerala), launched under the Kudumbashree mission for 1.5 lakh families, and Extreme Poverty Eradication Programme, covering more than 60,000 households. The latter is a five-year programme to eradicate extreme poverty by 2026.

Extensive fieldwork in three grama panchayats — Panamaram, Alappad and Asamannoor — showed that while most of the extremely poor owned land and house, 12% of the sample households did not own land. More than a quarter of them do not have a house of their own. Only 8% of the members of these poor households had educational qualification above higher secondary education. One-fourth have no formal schooling. Only about half of the households have at least one member who is employed. Half of them engage in daily wage work, and one-third of them participate in Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) work.

Mental illness

One of the most significant findings of the study is that one-fourth of the extreme poor households had a member with mental illness. The high proportion can be attributed to inclusion of mental illness as a criteria for being identified as an extreme poor household.

The study also found that two in five members of the sample households are unable to work due to old age, illness, disability or because they are engaged in caregiving responsibilities.

Early identification

The researchers lauded the government’s initiatives, but said it is important to recognise that both extreme poverty and vulnerability are dynamic in nature. One may fall into extreme poverty and experience different dimensions of vulnerability due to a single shock or multiple shocks and continued stress. The present programmes target only those identified as extreme poor. It is important to focus on early identification of people at risk, which calls for a new component in the programme to eradicate extreme poverty targeting such households.

The study, carried out by Athul S.G., N. Ajith Kumar, Parvathy Sunaina, Nagarajan R. Durai, and Bibin Thambi, said delay in identification of extreme poverty and vulnerability can lead to increased complexity in addressing the issue. A solution is ward-level panels conducting annual visits to extreme poor households, assessing their status and needs. Besides, micro plans can be adjusted periodically based on the assessments, and the status of extreme poor households can be integrated into the agenda of local community meetings.

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