LAHORE - The country is presently facing high inflation of 10-13 per cent in prices of essential items while biggest rise is in the rate of potatoes with hike by 156 per cent, pulses 33 per cent, sugar 11 per cent and milk also 11 per cent.

The cumulative inflation since 2007-08 has led to real increase in price of atta (58%); potatoes (241%), pulses (93%), sugar (27%); milk (60%).

The Institute for Policy Reforms, in its fact sheet released on Saturday, has claimed that the persistence of the Dharnas reflects that the roots of the discontent are potentially deep, which are high inflation, falling standard of living, high unemployment rate, rising inequality and breakdown of law and order etc.

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According to report, falling standard of living, income inequality has been rising since 2007-08. Real income of urban households in the lowest quintile (lowest 20% of the population) has fallen by 22% and of the next quintile by 20% according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). There is a severe ‘squeeze’ on the poor and the lower middle class.

IPR’s fact sheet shows that according to the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC), three million more people are falling below the poverty line every year.

The number of poor now stands at over 65 million, over one third of the population. It is truly a tragedy that almost 37 million people do not get two square meals a day and remain hungry.

The fact sheet further added that according to the Pakistan Nutrition Survey of 2011 and 2013, 58% of the households are food insecure. Only 3% of the children receive a diet that meets minimum standards. Consequently, 44% of the children (under five years of age) are stunted and 32% are underweight. Over 35% of households in 2012-13, from a sample of over 75000 households in a survey by PBS, said that their economic situation was worse or much worse in relation to the previous year. 20% said they were better off, while 45% saw no change in another survey, in the form of a citizen score card, by the Institute of Public Policy (IPP), 54% of the households rated the service of gas supply as bad and over 80% in the case of electricity.

As for as high unemployment is concerned, according to the fact sheet, the overall unemployment plus underemployment rate is very high currently at almost 14% , according to the Labor Force Survey of the PBS. Therefore, one in seven workers is unemployed or underemployed (only part time work).There are almost 5 million youth (15-29 years) in the country who are ‘idle’, that is, neither studying nor in the labor force. These youth are particularly vulnerable to militancy and crime. They need to be productively engaged. The unemployment and underemployment among youth is even higher at over 16%. Almost 6 million youth need jobs and better prospects. New entrants into the labor force have only one in three chance of finding a job in the first year of search. Over 10 million women are engaged in marginal occupations, due to pressure to sustain family income. Unemployment rate among women is almost twice that of men and the average wage is 40% less. There are over two million child workers and over one million bonded workers.

An interesting indicator of the emergence of a middle class is the rise in ownership of motor cycles. The number of motorcycles on road has increased by 90% between 2002-03 to 2007-08, but by only 10% in the last five years. As compared to this,  the number of motorcars increased by 67% between 2002-03 and 2007-08, but by as much as 94% in the last five years. There has also been a breakdown of the tax system. Number of individual tax payers is only 727,000 according to the Tax Directory. This number has fallen in the last seven years.

In comparison, India with about seven times the population has 45 times as many personal tax payers.60% of parliamentarians did not pay any tax. Agricultural income remains largely untaxed. Less than 40% of the companies registered with the SECP pay any tax. Tax evasion is rampant.