ANKARA: The suicide of a young Istanbul couple who faced serious financial struggles caused by coronavirus restrictions has raised fears about growing poverty levels in Turkey.
The pair committed suicide on Feb. 9 after leaving their 1-year-old child with a neighbor. It is believed they were struggling with financial hardships as a result of anti-coronavirus policies that have caused growing disillusionment across the country.
The incident has become a symbol of the country’s new economic reality and growing income inequality. The same day, Turkey controversially announced the launch of a new space program to land on the moon by 2023.
“Those who say there is no poverty and hunger — should we be upset for that little child, or those young people who died suddenly?” Canan Kaftancioglu, the Republican People’s Party Istanbul chair, said.
A recent report by the Public Services Employees Union found that seven in 10 Turkish people hold significant personal debts, with poverty rates higher among women and one in two children facing a life of poverty.
A fifth of Turkey’s 81 million people is believed to live below the poverty line.
The Gini coefficient, a commonly used measure of income inequality, among EU member states is 0.307. In Turkey, however, the figure stands at 0.417, according to Eurostat data that also showed that the country’s wealthiest people earned more than eight times the average wage in 2019.
A recent study by Turkish academics found that the number of impoverished Turks could double this year, rising to 20 million people.
Another report by the World Bank revealed that the coronavirus pandemic could force 1.6 million more people below the poverty line.
“In Turkey, the poor and the vulnerable (those above the poverty line, but with high levels of economic insecurity), representing the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution, account for six out of 10 jobs that vanished during the crisis,” the report said.
Experts have warned that government efforts to alleviate economic hardship caused by the pandemic, such as unemployment insurance benefits, have not been proportional to the scale of growing poverty in the country, because the aid scheme included only registered employees, ignoring the millions of “informal” workers who make up one-third of the labor market.
“Although Turkey has never been a perfect democracy or used rule of law in the past, the recent deterioration of checks and balances in the country and the wrong economic policies have had immediate repercussions on economic dynamics and hit the most vulnerable households on an unprecedented scale,” Serkan Ozcan, an economist and founding member of the breakaway Future Party, told Arab News.
Ozcan said that a “significant share” of society lives below the poverty line, despite working normal jobs.
According to the latest income survey by the state-run statistics agency TUIK, one-third of the population cannot afford to buy meat regularly, while 37 percent of respondents said they could not afford to heat their homes.
“Every time there is acute poverty in the country, the government brings about similar plans, like landing on the moon or initiating infrastructure megaprojects, to distract people from their immediate needs. It is a recurrent pattern,” Ozcan said.
On top of the economic damage caused by the pandemic, a government ban on layoffs is expected to be lifted later this year, likely resulting in a sharp increase in unemployment.
Large crowds of restaurant owners and staff have staged protests around the country in recent weeks to raise awareness of their financial struggles.
A new survey from Bahcesehir University revealed that the pay of one-third of the country decreased in the pandemic, while half of the Turkish population expects a sharp decline in their income in the coming period.
The same survey showed that one-third of people face difficulty in buying food amid Turkey’s double-digit inflation rate.
Employment figures among young people in the country also show an alarming 40 percent jobless rate.