In moving towards a high income Botswana, drawing from the budget speech, there is, as referenced in the last piece, a large population that although is not below the poverty line, is actually at great risk of poverty: the working poor.
It is first and foremost vital to note that the Botswana government has, for a long time measured poverty. An area however, where there has been great silence by researchers and reporters alike, is that of working poverty in Botswana. An even more unspoken element, is how working poverty affects mental and physical health of the working poor as well as the wellbeing of the working poor’s children, and particularly these children’s academic achievements.
But what is working poverty? It is difficult to discuss this concept without first unpacking who is poor, who is working and why it is necessary to consider this sector, in addressing poverty holistically and without leaving gaps.
According to the World Bank, as summarised by HK Siphambe, an economist, the poor are those amongst us who lack adequate food, shelter, education, health and are often vulnerable to adverse events outside their control. They are often treated badly by institutions of state and society and excluded from power in the institutions. Botswana, in a 2010 Statistics Botswana Report, Mapping Poverty in Botswana notes the official measurement as the poverty datum line, which considers an “imaginary” basket of goods and services that would adequately satisfy the necessary monthly requirements of a household in Botswana. The demand.
Who a worker is, on the other hand has not particularly been discussed to the extent where it is determined which workers are at risk of falling into poverty, or being in it. This is evident in government’s repeated echo of “creating jobs” and utter silence on the “quality of the jobs”. Although ‘working’ itself is an indicator in Botswana, of low unemployment rates, the types of jobs themselves seem to not be taken into consideration. It is for this reason that government internship programme as well as the Ipelegeng programme is considered work, for purposes of accounting for reduced unemployment rate. This does not, however, give a true reflection.
The budget speech, although it speaks to the eradication of abject poverty leaves a gap in failing to consider those who, although are working, are still poor, even if the poverty is not as dire as that of those in severe poverty.
There are groups of workers who economists from other jurisdictions have expressed concerns about, particularly when it comes to the poverty in these groups. Self employed workers, as well as minority and more specifically undocumented workers remain unprotected, because of the indicators used. People living and working in rural areas, and more particularly non-dominant ethnic groups are also affected by the failure to consider the working poor.
So one might ask, why is it important to consider the working poor? This takes us to a continuation of our conversation with Mmabatho Motsamai, digital developmentalist who focuses on the documentation of inclusive development in Africa, founding editor of Afrolutionist, who suggests that there is need for government to regulate the labour market and create better policies for enterprises. Wages should reflective how seriously the government considers its work force. She suggests that the wages paid by foreign enterprises are purely a marker of local wages.
It is apparent that poverty, generally affects a country’s economy. Not making concerted efforts towards eradicating all poverty has its effects. One of these is that demand in the country is affected. The population living in poverty has little to spend. This eventually affects supply, and could affect the businesses of foreign investors. In addition to this, when government fails to pay attention to other poor persons, beyond only those in abject poverty, poverty generally will continue to affect the health of the economy. The only way to address it fully is to pay attention to its various manifestations. Some, like Motsamai suggest rigorous efforts at a strong labour market and high income levels to move families who live in poverty, above it, sustainably. This method, although admittedly applied unsuccessfully in some of Europe where work poverty is used recognisably by the European Union, as an indicator, has it’s advantages. Even in Europe, where it had the effect of increasing unemployment, there was a decrease in the demand for unskilled labour.
So what does this have to do with the Budget speech? Well, the current administration is placing a lot of emphasis on taping into external markets. Internally however, Botswana seems largely underprepared for all of these moves. Typical examples are the recent restrictions on importing bread and later water, which Botswana enterprises failed to meet. This is an indication that although a lot of businesses are registered and set up, they are unable to meet the demand of the country. Making these compete with external companies only stirs things in the favour of the foreign investors. Removal of poverty and capacitating Batswana enterprises to meet the demands of the Botswana market, by regulating various factors including labour market, may go a longer way than leaving the market unregulated and opening up the borders too wide. The budget speech should surely be considerate of even the underemployed and the employed poor.