Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi Arabia is in the process of upgrading its national anti-poverty strategy in order to cope with the high cost of living according to information made available to Asharq Al-Awsat. In fact, the rate of inflation has reached a record of 11.1 percent in July 2008, which is the highest rate the country has ever witnessed in the last 25 years, according to the latest official information issued by the government.
Although no date has been set for the start of the overhaul of the anti-poverty strategy, which was first launched in October 2006, the government did reveal that the upgrading process will last several months, and that a team headed by the Minister of Social Welfare and members from the interior, finance, economy, planning, labor and social welfare ministries, as well as philanthropists from the private sector will supervise the project.
According to information made available to Asharq Al-Awsat there are 35,000 Saudi families suffering from abject poverty.. This number constitutes1.6 per cent of the total number of families registered with the General Statistics Department. These families were supposed to benefit from the supplementary support program which is a 264-million Riyal program seeking to bridge the gap between the real income of families and the abjectly poor individuals.
Officials in charge of the anti-poverty national strategy acknowledge the increasing numbers of the poor in varying degrees in Saudi Arabia in view of the increase of the population growth in the country. It is worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia is regarded as one of the countries with highest population growth in the world while there are no programs to cope with this increasing population growth.
The national strategy focused its activities on dealing with poverty by attacking the three poverty lines, i.e. relative poverty, absolute poverty, and abject poverty. In the case of the abject poverty, two Saudi ministers made contradictory statements on the date of eliminating this line of poverty. Former Social Welfare Minister Abdul-muhsin Al-Akkas said that it would be eliminated in 2006 while Economy and Planning Minister Khalid al-Qusaybi said that it would be eliminated in 2009. The anti-poverty national strategy in collaboration with many other parties held several studies and research on 12 topics. The studies and research gave the priority to the consumption spending of the Saudi families and distributing this spending according to the administrative regions and the groups of basic commodities. A study was also made on the domestic immigration in the various administrative areas.
Among the other topics that the officials in charge of the strategy announced that they will study is the housing distribution among families throughout the 13 administrative areas. The study will be subsidized by the loans offered by the Real Estate Development Fund.
The studies also included the current educational and health conditions and the extent of effectiveness of the current policies in tackling poverty.
Among the programs which the Saudi government approved as part of the anti poverty national strategy is to increase the allocations appropriated to the orphans and those who are living under needy conditions by 82 million Riyals or $21.86 million. The appropriations consisted of aid to the sponsoring families, school aid, end-of-sponsorship reward, matrimony aid, and rewards of the inmates of the orphanages.
A new program was introduced under the name of “emergency aid” for the families under absolute poverty line which are facing emergency, critical conditions that aggravate their suffering, such as the death of the bread winner of the family or his imprisonment or disease, or the disease of the children, or accidents of fire at home or natural disasters and similar negative developments. The maximum amounts to e paid for these cases will depend on the case itself and the degree of suffering. The National Charity Fund annually receives funds estimated at 300 million Riyals or $80 million. It has in its own treasury 600 million Riyals or $160 million, thanks to the support it received in the last two years. With this year’s support, the total subsidy received by the National Charity Fund would amount to nearly 1 billion Riyals or $266.6 million.
The National Charity Fund runs five programs. These are the Awareness and Guidance Program, the Program of Productive Families, the Program of Small Projects, the Program of Educational and Training Scholarships, and the Program of Job Coordination.
The National Charity Fund has placed conditions for giving loans to beneficiaries from the Program of the Small Projects and the Program of the Productive Families. The main condition is that the income of the individual should not be above the poverty line in Saudi Arabia.
The Fund does not request guarantees for the loans it offers with the exception of the case when the ceiling of the loan is 100,000 Riyals to be invested in a small project. In this case, the assets of the beneficiaries are mortgaged by the Fund. Beneficiaries of the Fund’s loans are given seven to 27 months for the repayment of the loans of small projects while they are given six to 20 months for the repayment of the loans of the productive families. Failure to pay the installments on time could deprive the beneficiary of the Fund’s services for the next five years.