A recent nationally representative survey by LIRNEasia, a regional think tank, showed that the population living below the poverty line increased by four million. Some seven million Sri Lankans (31 per cent of the population) are now living in poverty (in 2023), compared to three million in 2019.
LIRNEasia said in a statement that the 2023 survey highlights that 81 per cent of those living below the poverty line resided in rural areas. However, while rural poverty doubled (15 per cent to 32 per cent) since 2019, urban poverty tripled (from 6 per cent to 18 per cent). Those living in the estate sector continued to be the worst off -- more than half of those in estate communities were living in poverty.
The survey also revealed that existing social assistance programmes have failed to reach the poorest in society. Only 31 per cent of the poorest tenth of households receive Samurdhi while four per cent of the richest tenth of households do.
These findings were shared at an event organized by LIRNEasia on Wednesday in which State Minister of Finance, Shehan Semasinghe delivered the keynote address. B. Wijayaratne (Chairman, Welfare Benefits Board), Ms. Karin Fernando (Team Lead – Sustainable Development, CEPA), Ms. Gayani Hurulle (Senior Research Manager, LIRNEasia), and Tharaka Amarasinghe (Statistician, LIRNEasia) participated in the panel discussion, which was moderated by Dhananath Fernando (CEO, Advocata Institute).
Ms. Hurulle of LIRNEasia said: “It is concerning that an additional 4 million Sri Lankans have fallen into poverty in such a short period. Families have had to prioritise one child’s education over the other. Many parents that we met indicated that they cannot afford to give their children a balanced diet. The country must protect the vulnerable during these challenging times by spending adequately on social safety nets. Not only do sufficient funds need to be allocated to social safety nets, the funds allocated should be utilised efficiently.”
Surveys were conducted amongst a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 Sri Lankan households. The survey was conducted between October 2022 and March 2023 across 400 Grama Niladhari Divisions. Qualitative research in the form of key informant interviews, focus group discussions, in depth interviews, and structured observations were undertaken with over 400 individuals across 13 districts. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada.
LIRNEasia is a policy think tank working across the emerging Asia Pacific. Its mission is to catalyse policy change through research to improve people’s lives using knowledge, information, and technology.