The problem of deciding who is really poor and who really deserves government assistance is a tough one anywhere but especially in countries like Indonesia where a large percentage of the population lives at the low end of the economic scale.
A regional government in South Sumatra has taken a controversial approach to the problem that has seen many voluntarily leave a poverty assistance program rather than being publicly shamed by having their house marked with a paint tag saying "poor family".
The policy was recently implemented by the government of Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) Regency and officials say hundreds of families have volunteered to leave the national Family Hope Program (PKH) that offers various means of financial assistance to families in poverty including conditional cash transfers.
"We have indeed put up stickers and stamp on the homes of families receiving government assistance. In the stamp it is written that the family is 'incapable' and needs help," explained OKI Social Service Head Amir today as quoted by Detik.
Amir said that out of 1,595 families that had been registered with PKH, about 343 voluntarily chose to leave the program rather than accept the label on their home.
"If one were to leave the PKH program, it would have to be based on their desires or awareness – the term is resign. So writing on the walls of their houses is an effort to ensure that the pro-poor program is right on target," Amir added.
The head of Mesuji Subdistrict, Mukhlis, said that all those who chose to remain in the program agreed to accept the label on their home.
"There were many residents who received assistance but did not want to be labeled as poor families. Finally they withdrew from the program," Mukhlis said.
While the regulation could be considered successful in terms of reducing the number of people accepting poverty assistance, this sort of "poverty shaming" also runs the very real risk of pushing families that truly do need help to not accept it as a matter of pride. Surely there's a more humane way to determine who really needs the government's help?