Ehsaas Program — the flagship poverty alleviation initiative of the current government — is ushering a positive change to the people of Pakistan and has laid the foundation of a global model for reducing poverty by uplifting the destitute strata and providing various relief packages through coordinated efforts for the past three years. Initiated to transform Pakistan into a welfare state, the Ehsaas Program addresses systemic poverty and ensures enduring solutions through paving a path for inclusive sustainable development. This noble initiative of the current government to transform the country into a welfare state tackles the elementary inequities that COVID-19 brought about, especially for the low-income strata including the labor class, women, and youth. The progress made so far by this [vary] initiative heap phrased across the world due to its value addition capacity to the prospects of development. Under the strong leadership and unwavering integrity of both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Dr. Nishtar has made a resounding triumph by fulfilling expectations of the unprivileged segment of society and transcending rhetoric of a welfare state to reality.
The Ehsaas Program is divided into four pillars which consist of 134 policies, designed according to the domestic exigencies of the scio-economic development and aligned with the global Sustainable Development Agenda (SGDs) 2030. It is pertinent to mention that the extensiveness of the Ehsaas Program places it amongst the top social developmental programs ever launched in South Asia by any state. A set of seven time-bound goals and targets currently are stipulated for the Ehsaas initiative. Equally, the project offers a safety net for approximately 10 million families of the country and livelihood opportunities for 3.8 million individuals. In the domain of health, it offers countrywide financial access to healthcare for 10 million families- another unique millstone that the Ehsaas program has attained. With reference to the education sector, it offers various scholarships and educational incentives for 5 million students (50% girls) to ensure affordable education for the middle and lower class of society. It is pertinent to mention that Ehsaas Program also pledges to further uplift financial and digital inclusion for 7 million individuals (90% women) of the country. Appraisal suggests that Ehsaas Program offers an enabling environment for poverty reduction. Equally promoting multi-sectoral partnerships and innovations in the country with broader agenda of uplifting the living standards of the underprivileged class and also ensure their maximum engagement in the social, economic growth of the state through offering various opportunities.
Sir Michael Barber, Chairman, and Founder of Delivery Associates, Chief Adviser to Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that- “Our analysis shows that Ehsaas by focusing on accountability and impact, has laid the foundations for becoming a globally leading exemplar on how to tackle poverty. I have had the honor of working with successive Pakistani governments throughout my career and it is fantastic to see Ehsaas embedded at the heart of the current administration. The reforms and structural changes pioneered by the team resulted in the rapid delivery of Ehsaas Emergency Cash to 12 million households against the challenging and unprecedented backdrop of Covid-19. Their work is going to be vital in the coming months and years. PM Khan has shown his commitment to end poverty through giving full patronage to the Ehsaas Program which not only addresses symptoms of poverty but also its root cause.”
The pillars of Ehsaas program targets the agendas of sustainable development with the first pillar to counter the existing economic gap between the upper and the lower middle class of Pakistan. Under article 38(d) the “Principles of Policy” section is to be changed into the “Fundamental Rights” section encompassing income support programs and the provision of food, housing and clothing for the needy through the newly established Ministry of Social Protection & Poverty Alleviation. Apart from this Ehsaas one window program has been established to assist beneficiaries of social protection besides reducing duplication. Funds are to be earmarked for those who are below the poverty line by establishing cafes and shops respectively. Proper registration of the slums is encouraged so that they could be easily facilitated and included in the commercialization of the area.
The second pillar of the Ehsaas Program comprises safety nets which guarantee provisions of necessities including food, shelter and health facilities to the poorer segment. For this purpose, the Kifalat program has been introduced and whose functionality is for the digitalization of cash programs to around 7 million women through the one woman one bank account policy. Secondly, there is the Tahafuz program which provides legal and financial aid to the poor, especially widows and orphans. In addition to this, another well-renowned policy is the housing for the poor. This program covers 1000 houses for the orphans, Panah-Gahs, and affordable housing schemes for the poor. The government has also launched the Insaf insurance card which deals with health expenditures. Several welfare programs for the elderly and disabled are also launched such as biometric payments of pensions, pension schemes for informal sectors, and establishment of 20 centers for physically challenged people. Moreover, a policy of subsidy on air tickets for low-paid workers abroad who have not returned home in seven years is established to facilitate Pakistani overseas workers.
The third pillar of the Ehsaas Program consists of human capital development. It focuses on the empowerment of women, quality education, malnutrition and child protection. To tackle malnutrition, the government is providing the poor with specific nutritional foods. Special campaigns are launched to spread awareness regarding stunted growth. Government hospitals have been instructed to give Iron and Vitamin supplements to patients. For pro-poor education, vouchers are given to students for private schools. E-Learning content is freely available for the public. Chatbots in the local language is introduced to make communication easy for the people. In addition to this, the current government is focusing on education of the poor by providing undergraduate scholarships. With reference to the health sector, the government has adopted (Universal health coverage) to alleviate the health condition of the poor by providing them with health cards and better healthcare facilities.
And lastly, the fourth phase of the Ehsaas Program focuses on the jobs and livelihood of the people. This phase provides financial support and platforms to the needy to earn a livelihood. It includes the Rikshaw garbage collector initiative, digital interfaces for the illiterate, and incubators for emerging startups. As far as the IT sector is concerned, the government is encouraging more freelance work by providing a platform. Skill training schools are also established which will ultimately impact the job sector. In order to facilitate farmers, economic policies have been introduced for the reduction in equipment cost of farming. In addition publications such as the biannual Agriculture Terms of Trade Report have been initiated to improve pricing mechanisms.
The Ehsaas program has successfully made its place in the good books of the World Bank. Recently in a report on ‘global social protection responses to Covid-19,’ the World Bank has recognized Pakistan’s government Ehsaas Emergency Cash program among the top four social protection interventions globally in terms of number of people covered. As per the report, Pakistan’s provincial governments also implemented supportive fiscal measures from the onset of the shock, including cash grants to low-income households, tax relief, and additional health spending. This also includes the increase in salary for health workers. The Government of Pakistan allocated Rs. 203 Billion for emergency cash assistance to 15 million families in extreme poverty. The supportive fiscal measure continues at the provincial level. The report stated that a relief package worth PKR 1.2 trillion was announced by the federal government on March 24, which has been almost fully implemented. The package consists of wheat (PKR 280 billion), financial support to utility stores (PKR 50 billion), a reduction in regulated fuel prices (with a benefit for end-consumers estimated at PKR 70 billion), support for health and food supplies (PKR 15 billion), electricity bill payments relief (PKR 110 billion).
“The World Bank has approved $600 million in financing from the International Development Association (IDA) for the Crisis-Resilient Social Protection Program (CRISP) that will support the Pakistan Ehsaas program. In this regard, Najy Benhassine, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan said, “Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of families across Pakistan face economic hardship, particularly those working in the informal sector, who have no savings or are not covered by existing social safety net programs. He further added, “This investment supports Ehsaas in developing an adaptive social protection system that is more efficient and offers a new model for crisis-response and increasing household resilience to future shocks.” the World Bank stated and Pakistan’s emergency Ehsaas program has attained impressive six-digit levels.”
Distinctive features of the Ehsaas program:
- Ehsaas program is the first-ever project that operates countrywide, irrespective of provincial and regional disparity. The program targets to diversify social protection, safety nets and supporting human capital development of the middle and lower class of the country. This inclusiveness and extensiveness of the Ehsaas projects designates itself as one of the leading initiatives in the entire history of Pakistan that offers equal benefits to the masses across the country with a greater success rate.
- The Ehsaas program has set new precedents in the vision and operational culture of welfare programs in Pakistan by shifting and focusing from conventional political patronage-based to performance-based.
- Pakistan, unfortunately, has a history of subtleness vis-à-vis the sustainability of any developmental projects of the past. In most of cases, the followed approach and delivering the development initiatives have been inconsistent and intermittent which has made various projects ineffective and strayed. For instance, the Social Action Program initiated in the year 1990 or the Mid Term Development Frame Work launched in the year 2005, or the well-thought-out National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) initiative of General Pervaiz Musharraf, the overall performance remains sporadic due to countless constraints and the myopic approach of the ruling elites. Nevertheless, planning, resource allocation, measurements, incentives structures, and accountability of the Ehsaas program ensured its triumph.
- Another prominent feature of the Ehsaas Program is the rate of success of all the initiatives of 134 policies and programs. Currently, all the initiatives have attained resounding success and are likely to strengthen further as the projects progress in the foreseeable future. This accomplishment allows the Ehsaas program to hold its sustainability as a long-term intervention in alignment with the global Sustainable Development Agenda of 2030.
- Under previous governments, the socio-economic transformation of women in Pakistan remained a grave area of concern. There was a big gap in gender based policy formulation in past, nevertheless, the Ehsaas program has become a cornerstone that has filled that gap and it has set new precedents for women empowerment in the country, offering new incentives/ opportunities- in particular the middle class, and lower middle class women. The Ehsaas program vows to uplift 7 million women in Pakistan out of poverty and assist them in achieving their potential through numerous opportunities of microenterprises, Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship, Ehsaas Interest-Free Loan, Ehsaas Amdan, Waseela-e-Taleem Digital, and Ehsaas Nashonuma programs respectively. Such multiple initiatives for Pakistani women permits them to ultimately contribute to the socio-economic development of Pakistan. One of the key features of the Ehsaas Program is the compatibility of all initiatives in compliance with women’s exigencies and requirements. The Ehsaas Program thus has become a hallmark of women’s development and progress in various tiers of life in Pakistan aligning itself with the sustainable development goals.
- The Ehsaas Program to a large extent has provided viable remedies to address national economic constraints. The dynamics and nature of the various projects of the Ehsaas Progam has shifted the fulcrum from mega infrastructural projects to the welfare of the masses at the micro-level. This strategic approach has assisted mega developmental prospects for deprived communities to attain self-sufficiency. The Ehsaas Program has attained resounding success, albeit it has yet to gain popularity among the people of Pakistan. Therefore, stakeholders must focus on branding and advertisement of the key accomplishments in order to attract international stakeholders such as the important global donor agencies. Furthermore, the projection of the Ehsaas Program shall promote the ambition of Pakistan as a welfare state.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented economic shock for the world’s economy and it has also drastically increased unemployment in Pakistan. In such circumstances, various initiatives of the Ehsaas program provided a breakthrough in the containment of the economic soft patch. For instance, the countrywide Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program, and healthcare initiatives under the Ehsaas health program offered much-needed relief to the needy community during the pandemic crisis. This tendency of the Ehsaas Program signifies that it can cope with any uncertain conditions in reviving the overall economy despite the unfavorable environment.
- The Ehsaas Program has also played a key role in maintaining the social fabric as it intends to empower the masses of both rural and urban sectors. In past, the trajectory of the development remained urban-centric that inadvertently resulted in urban migration, and to an extent, widening the rural-urban developmental gap. The initiatives of Ehsaas Rozgar Schemes and skill development projects have not only controlled the internal migration of the masses but also created opportunities in the remote areas of Pakistan, eventually leading to broader regional development. The Ehsaas Amdan program through small retail outlets and enterprises aims to improve livelihoods and jobs initiatives that have been implemented in union councils and districts through which assets are given to the deserving to enable them to pull out of poverty.
- Appraisal suggests that previously there was lacking a countrywide developmental roadmap for children and as a result Pakistan faces alarming challenges of stunting, wasting, underweight, and overweight, that leads to high mortality and morbidity of under-five children but also is a reason for these children poor performance in education and contributes to a loss in the economic returns for the country. Nutrition under the Ehsaas program aims to support, multi-sectoral strategies through poor-friendly programs by targeting mothers and children.
- Special persons in Pakistan have always faced insurmountable challenges due to neglect and unavailability of resources and thus they have remained secluded and marginalized in national developmental policy. However, the Ehsaas Porgram has become a source for mainstreaming special persons community though offering various opportunities and resources.
- Sitting under the umbrella of Ehsaas, Data4Pakistan, the first initiative of its kind in the country provides open and public access to a spatial interactive portal that has poverty estimates for every district in Pakistan, along with over 120 development and policy indicators. The portal currently has six rounds of district poverty and development data, covering the period 2004-2018. It has been developed in collaboration with the World Bank. This innovative portal is a very valuable resource for federal, provincial and district level policymakers for decision making.
- Ehsaas program’s use of technology and data, which underpin monitoring routines designed to ensure robust governance discipline throughout its operations. This includes a new data dashboard, openly displayed on the Ehsaas website, which uses a traffic light system to track progress on different strands of the program, highlighting progress and improving transparency.
- The program’s all-encompassing digital approach, with transparency hardwired into its design, offers procedure for personal identification systems. In addition to this, by combining phones, Internet connectivity, and national IDs, a digital, demand-based social-protection system can be created to enable those in distress to seek support during crises. And it also depicts a mechanism for cash transfer programs that can be deployed to counter the severe socioeconomic repercussions of external tremors, such as natural disasters like Covid-19.
To conclude, the impact of the Ehsaas Program goes beyond short-term relief to the public masses. Built into its design are long-term goals to strengthen and increase financial inclusion, both of which will bring lasting benefits to recipients and to national development goals. Alongside this is the commitment for transparency and accountability which ensures a culture of integrity and openness that must be ingrained in government institutions and processes.