Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro unveiled a new policy to focus on the needs of the least well off as part of his pledge to eradicate extreme poverty in the country by 2018.
The policy involves creating almost 1,500 special attention points that group together various social programs in areas where extreme poverty still prevails, in order to meet the basic needs of these communities.
The attention points, called Social Mission Bases, will house government social programs such as free community food kitchens, subsidised food stores, and free medical clinics. They will be spread out over the 255 of the country’s 1163 local districts where households experiencing extreme poverty still exist.
Venezuela’s National Institute of Statistics estimates that 5.5% of Venezuelan households still experience extreme poverty. This is calculated using the regionally based Unsatisfied Basic Needs (UBN) structural poverty indicator, which considers as extremely poor those homes where two or more basic needs, such as access to basic services, adequate living conditions, or schooling, are not met.
The percentage of households in extreme poverty has decreased steadily over the previous decade from 12.7% in 2003 to 5.5% currently. In the same period, overall structural poverty has decreased from 30.5% to 19.6%.
President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to eliminate extreme poverty altogether by 2018, the end of his current term of office, as well as to continue to reduce overall structural poverty.
“In the year 2018 I’ll be…able to say that we’ve achieved the goal of zero misery in Venezuela…the Bolivarian revolution must end poverty to establish a system of equality [and] justice,” he said as the first Social Mission Base was founded in the coastal state of Miranda.
Maduro also informed the country that the Social Mission Bases will be complemented with multidisciplinary teams of social program workers, such as community doctors, sports therapy trainers and cultural promoters, who will visit deprived communities house by house to assess living conditions and attend to differing needs.
“The great battalion [multi-disciplinary team]…won’t have another objective but to fight a strong battle along with our people to eradicate extreme poverty,” the president said, while also encouraging supporters to participate in the work of the Social Mission Bases.
The policy announcements come amid a debate over poverty in Venezuela, with government critics pointing to an increase in income-based poverty between the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013, in the context of a sharp increase in annual inflation.
“The days when poverty was a winning issue for chavismo are over. Official statistics now show that poverty is rising rapidly,” wrote anti-government blogger Juan Nagel for Foreign Policy magazine recently.
Nevertheless income-based poverty actually decreased in the second half of 2013 to lower than it was in early 2012, and in keeping with the level of income-based poverty recorded in recent years, at 32.1%, down from 62.1% a decade earlier.
The Social Mission Bases policy also comes not long after Maduro announced reforms to the country’s national system of welfare programs, in order to improve their performance and reduce bureaucracy and overlapping functions.
The programs, known as “missions”, include free health clinics, free educational programs, subsidised food outlets, and the construction of heavily subsidised housing. They are held as one factor behind the large reduction in poverty since the Bolivarian government was elected to power in 1999.