Minimum wage: Can it even fulfil nutritional requirements of a family? – Opinion

There’s a debate going on at the national level on minimum wage. Prime Minister Imran Khan has been seen requesting the corporate sector to increase the minimum wage of the workers working in their companies.

At one place the prime minister is asking private sector to increase wages and on the side workers working on contracts working for the government such as people from minorities working at sewerage departments were being paid as low as Rs11,000 and that too without proper safety gears which unfortunately many die due to poisonous gasses.

Meanwhile, Governor State Bank Dr Reza Baqir has been quoted as saying in a newspaper that raising the minimum wage would push inflation up. It means even if the government manages to pull minimum wages up, the cost of living would go up as well.

For instance, if someone was earning Rs 25,000 and his or her expenses were also Rs 25,000 and if his income increases to Rs30,000 after increase in mandatory minimum wage increase then his or her expenses would also go up similar to the increase in wage due to rising inflation. It would be a zero sum game for an average Pakistani.

According to health experts, even Rs 25,000 minimum wage is not enough for an average family of six members.

Paying off rent, utility bills and schooling expenses of children, a family isn’t left with enough money to fulfil its nutritional requirements.

They regularly have to face tough decisions that either to fulfill their nutritional requirements or other also important requirements such schooling and education.

According to the National Nutritional Survey 2018, four out of ten children under five years of age are stunted while 17.7% suffer from wasting. The double burden of malnutrition is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost one in three children underweight (28.9%).

The rising inflation in the country, which is reported at 10.5% during the ongoing financial year, is making the situation worse for the people of the working class, who are either working in the formal as well as informal sector of economy.

It is getting difficult for them to buy enough edibles that would fulfil their nutritional requirements. In this backdrop of stagnant income and rising inflation, the situation is aggravating and there’s a need for intervention.

Just for understanding of the elites with a mindset of ‘Let them have cakes if there is no bread’, undernourishment can cause early deaths. It could also lead to a list of disastrous effects on children, which can continue to haunt them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives.

These effects include delayed development, increased vulnerability to preventable diseases, stunted growth and micronutrient deficiencies of which Iodine, Vitamin A and Iron are the most common. It prevents children from educating well, prospering and doing purposeful work in adulthood to contribute to the well-being of the society.

Due to the malnutrition in Pakistan, nearly half of the population in Pakistan is being raised malnourished with iron deficiency. It is among the top deficiencies among children. Almost half of the children in the country are iron deficient, according to the National Nutrition Survey 2018.

Deficiency of iron causes the most common type of anemia, Iron Deficiency anemia (IDA). IDA can either be due to diets low in iron, malabsorption of iron from the gut or due to blood loss.

Chronic iron deficiency in early childhood results in poor cognitive function and lower scores in achievement tests in schools, suggesting that irreversible abnormalities may result from chronic iron deficiency at a critical period of growth and differentiation of the brain.

Iron deficiency has an effect on a number of things — from physical and mental health to productivity. To address this, it is imperative that children be given good sources of iron e.g., organ meat, dark green leafy vegetables etc. and products fortified with iron.

There’s a dire need of awareness programs, which help people especially of humble background to understand the nutritional requirements especially of the children. Awareness should be made of how to use their limited sources in the best possible manner.

They should know what type of food and if they are facing issues such as iron deficiency, what alternatives they have to address it quickly.

For instance, to address the iron deficiency among children, the research community in other parts of the world is working on enhancing the nutritional value of food and food ingredients.

Massey University New Zealand has come up with a new and improved iron source (known as Iron-plus), which offers three times more absorption in the body against the existing best available source of iron.

The government and the private sector can come forward and create awareness among the large population segment with a humble background and provide them easily accessible and inexpensive options for food and other nutritional supplements so that the nutritional deficiency in the country can be reduced.

It would certainly improve the well-being of the society, which eventually lead to improved productivity of the nation and subsequently stronger economy as well. Facilitating the healthy nutritional requirement of the country should be one of the top mandates of any government.

(The writer is a doctor who writes on health and economy-related issues. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022