‘Thanks for the cash but we need jobs’ (2)

In its study, the Social Watch Philippines found that most of the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pilipino Program (4Ps) that it surveyed expressed gratitude that the cash grants being granted by government had improved the health and education status of their families.

But they still feel that what would lift them out of poverty was access to regular employment. “This underscores the fact that one of the most important elements in the fight against poverty is productive employment,” said Social Watch, which called on the Aquino government to put quality jobs creation and protection of workers rights, including women’s rights, in the forefront of its anti-poverty agenda.

The conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme that worked in other countries will not necessarily work in the Philippines. Social Watch said that the CCTS around the world share similarities, but economic and social policy setting vary.

It cited the case of Mexico’s Oportunidades, which apart from education and health cash transfers for food accompanied grants and for the elderly while in Brazil, the Bolza Familia is part of a larger economic and social protection scheme composed of complementary actions and services to poor families. Among the complementary actions was creating employment , providing income generating activities and improving housing conditions.

Recognizing that   the 4Ps as a “stand alone” program will not work, the Aquino government had taken steps to link it up with economic programs like Kalahi-CIDDS and Self-Employment and Assistance-Kaunlaran or SEA-K.

Yet Social Watch said that there is a still a need to refine such a strategy. For one, it noted that “highly micro-ized and project-ized” Kalahi-CIDDS project that it had generated had localized impact on poverty reduction and has not really made a dent reducing overall poverty. Data also showed that SEA-K activities revolve mostly around low-value trade and commercial activities with limited impact on poverty reduction.

Social Watch said that key ingredients to people empowerment is community organizing and mobilization. Government also has to come out with comprehensive poverty reduction strategy and increase public spending on the various pro-poor programs with stress on education, health, agriculture, housing and environment.

The group proposed a comprehensive program performance audit by an independent body to include civil society by 2011 before further expanding the 4Ps. The audit will determine whether the program expected outputs and inputs.

“Causes of poverty are complex and interlocking and based on the evidence of other country experiences so effectively it will require a combination of economic and social development policies that require sustained economic growth productive employment, asset reform and comprehensive social policies which includes universal social protection measures,” it said.

For as long as the Aquino government does not have a strategy that provides a holistic perspective and addresses the structural constraints to poverty reduction, the civil society groups said anti-poverty efforts will remain short-term palliatives. Joel Paredes

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