AN INCREASE in the cost of living in the capital city by 6.88 per cent, the highest in the past three years, in 2020, a year that witnessed a large number of low-income people fall below the poverty threshold because of the Covid outbreak and the financial slowdown that it caused, comes with concern. The Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh presented the figure on Wednesday in its report titled ‘Cost of Living Report 2020’. The report, based on prices of 114 food items, 22 essential products and 14 services in Dhaka, also says that prices of goods and services have also increased by 6.31 per cent in 2020 while the cost of living and prices of goods and services increased by 6.50 per cent and 6.08 per cent in 2019, 6 per cent and 5.19 per cent in 2018. The report did not consider the expenditure for education, medical treatment and actual transport, which added could push the increase margin further. An increase in the cost of living is almost similar in other parts of the country as inflation, especially food inflation, increased substantially in 2020. The overall food inflation reached, keeping to recent Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data, a record level in September–October 2020.
Prices of rice, as the report says, increased on an average by 20.57 per cent while prices of pulses increased by 14.18 per cent, edible oils by 8.97 per cent, fish by 7.13 per cent, red meat by 10.49 per cent, eggs by 5.32 per cent and chicken by 10.83 per cent in 2020. Prices of water and electricity also increased significantly. City dwellers had to spend 24.98 per cent more on for 1,000 litres of water and 5.43 per cent more on electricity than what they did in 2019. People had to spend 24.66 per cent more on regular spices, including onions, garlic, ginger and chilli, and 24.93 per cent more on sugar and other sweeteners in 2020. House rents also increased significantly. House rent mostly for lower- and middle-income groups went up on an average by 5.35 per cent, with the highest increase of 7.48 per cent in slums. Prices of fruit also increased by about 7.76 per cent. Such an increase forced low- and fixed-income people to cut down on their food intake and other necessities. A lack of government intervention in, monitoring of and forecast on the market is believed to have led to such an increase.
When a large number of people reel from the economic slowdown caused by the Covid outbreak, an increase in the cost of living is an unbearable burden for many. The government must, therefore, intervene in the market and not let the market become volatile. The government should also consider establishing a separate agency, as the Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh demands, for monitoring the market and protecting consumer rights. The government must also enhance its social safety net programmes to cover all vulnerable people.
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