Lending Hands To Someone Is Better Than Giving A Dole

I believe that virtually all the problems in the world come from inequalities of one kind or the another.  – Amartya Sen

The challenge of poverty alleviation has been around ever since democratic governments based on universal adult franchise have been setup in different parts of the world. Many solutions have been proposed to eliminate poverty. Trickle down economics, welfare states, communism, job creation and universal basic income (UBI) are some of the well known solutions proposed at different period of times. In spite of good intentions and efforts, all governments have failed to achieve this goal.

Before jumping into the debate whether doles are better or worse than the ‘helping hand’, we need to understand the definition of doles. It is famously said by activists of welfare support that ‘ government assistance when given to the rich are called incentives, whereas the same is called ‘doles’ when given to poor .’ Tax cuts  and cheap loans given to rich in the name of increasing investment can also be termed as a dole. However, if the poor are given food grains at a lesser price, people call it a dole. There is a big problem in distinguishing doles from incentives.

Hence we can define a dole as an assistance provided by the state which discourages the need to work and remain poor in spite of ample opportunities in a country to come out of poverty through individual efforts. In addition to this, we can also term policies that are designed to win support of electorate  for the sake of retaining power alone as doles. For example free education for children up to class 8 is beneficial for the economy. However, providing TV sets for winning elections can be called a dole.

Education, jobs, access to food, housing and healthcare are seen as important areas that need to be addressed to lift people out of poverty. It is a Herculean task for any government to ensure all these things to all citizens. However, even with a policy that takes access to food as the sole metric to define poverty has also failed to achieve the stated goal of poverty alleviation. For all these things , a growing a prosperous national economy is a pre-requisite.

Education, especially primary education has been neglected in India since independence. Lack of funds, motivation and efforts on part of the government is a major cause for this. Education empowers individuals and shapes them as an individual in order to take on various challenges of life (including poverty) . Primary education is extremely important as the child can be provided with confidence and vital skills during these years. Low investment in primary education has ensured that poor are struck in low level jobs and lack the orientation towards life that enables them to participate in society with confidence.

Jobs are essential to prevent poverty in any society. However it is related to trade, innovation, world market , technology and political situation in any country. It is too complex for detailed analysis, though it is an important pre- requisite for a poverty- free society. Innovative businesses must be encouraged. MSMEs and self employments opportunities must be encouraged by providing incentives and cheap credit. In populous countries like India labor intensive production must be encouraged wherever feasible. Skill development and export must also be encouraged to create jobs.

Access to nutritious and cheap food is also a part of poverty free society. This will not only prevent disease but also help people to invest money in education and healthcare. It may also help them to invest in consumer goods or entertainment. Schemes like Amma Canteen in Tamil Nadu and Indira Canteen in Karnataka have been criticized as doles. However , extending this scheme can also enable governments to abolish PDS and directly provide cheap food to those who cannot afford.

Existence of slums and makeshift dwellings in urban and rural areas is a cause of concern. Lack of toilets and clean drinking water leads to diseases. When cheap healthcare is absent, this adds to impoverishment of people. The government has to provide basic necessities like sanitation and clean drinking water and support policies that ensure that cheap housing is available in all parts of the nation. Providing healthy living spaces must be considered as a helping gesture rather than a dole. Good health and clean living spaces are essential for better productivity in an economy.

Healthcare is yet another aspect of society that can affect poverty levels. Expenditure on health emergencies can affect the economic status of a family or an individual. Above poverty line families can also end up in debt or poverty after a health emergency in a family. If there are public healthcare facilities in society that can provide services for free or at a nominal cost, the health emergency will prevent impoverishment of that particular family. In addition to that, the healthcare infrastructure must also invest in preventive healthcare through vaccination and public education regarding prevention of diseases and healthy lifestyles.

Thus policies that prevent impoverishment of vulnerable people in an economy are important for the society. These expenditures must not be treated as doles , but as investments in human capital that is essential for an economy. If the human capital is capable and well equipped it can lead to growth or improvement of an economy. However this must be coupled with policies that generate and sustain jobs.

But, in the modern technology intensive economies , we are seeing more and more jobs being lost to automation. Wealth is being concentrated in top 1% of the society. The opportunities for poor to come out of poverty are narrowing. In future artificial intelligence may take over many jobs in service and manufacturing sector. Self driving technology can put many people out of work. In this scenario, some sort of universal basic income will have to be implemented. Though it is considered a dole, it is necessary for social justice as the state can’t stop such enormous changes in society.

Assistance from the state must be decided based on opportunities and conditions in society that provide a chance for poor to earn their livelihoods. If there are no or very few opportunities, the state must step in and ensure basic necessities for life. Thus, the definition of dole and incentive must be clearly defined based on conditions in society. Wherever the opportunity is available, lending hands to someone in the form of education, jobs, healthcare and affordable housing is always better than giving out a dole in form of goods or cash (universal basic income).

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