Despite drop in poverty, Morocco struggles with social inequalities

Oxfam in Morocco called on the government and institutions concerned to tackle inequality by creating a “sustainable and inclusive development” model.
Sunday 26/05/2019
Old men work as street cleaners in the Moroccan city of Assilah. (Saad Guerraoui)
Making ends meet. Old men work as street cleaners in the Moroccan city of Assilah. (Saad Guerraoui)

CASABLANCA - Income inequality in Morocco is the highest in North Africa, the NGO confederation Oxfam warned in a report.

Despite healthy GDP growth over the last decade, Oxfam said, the gap between Morocco’s richest and poorest widened. In 2018, Morocco’s three richest people had a combined $4.5 billion in wealth but 1.6 million Moroccans lived in poverty.

One in eight Moroccans were considered economically vulnerable and risk falling into poverty. It would take 154 years for a Moroccan minimum monthly salary employee to earn what a billionaire reaps in one year, Oxfam said.

Abdeljalil Laroussi, Oxfam’s advocacy and campaign manager in Morocco, said such inequality was “the result of inadequate public policies and encouraged by international institutions.”

“Since independence, Morocco has adopted growth models that are deepening inequalities and putting a large part of the population in a situation of extreme vulnerability,” Laroussi said.

“Because inequalities slow down the fight against poverty, undermine growth and exacerbate social tensions, it is urgent that politicians and businesses tackle the problem head-on. Citizens can also act to reverse the trend by challenging public decision makers.”

Even though the poverty rate declined in Morocco from 15.3% in 2001 to 4.8% in 2014, territorial inequalities would take 25 years to be halved, data from the Office of the High Commissioner for Planning indicated.

Oxfam’s report blamed the country’s failing education system and labour market, meant to be catalysts for bridging inequality, for the negative trends.

Mehdi Alioua, a sociologist at the International University of Rabat, said social inequalities exist in Morocco because of a lack of social responsibility and effective socio-economic reforms that would allow Moroccans to prosper.

“The government needs to reform many sectors, including social security, health care and education, to narrow the gap between the poor and the rich,” said Alioua.

Morocco’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.8% in 2018 from 10.2% in 2017. From 2000-17, the country posted an average annual GDP growth of 4.4%.

Oxfam in Morocco called on the government and institutions concerned to tackle inequality by creating a “sustainable and inclusive development” model that benefits everyone rather than just the elite.

Several institutions and foundations have been created to help eradicate poverty and exclusion. The National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), begun by Moroccan King Mohammed VI in 2005, has created 44,000 projects, 17,000 actions and 9,400 income-generating activities to reduce social disparities in rural and urban areas.

Last September, King Mohammed VI introduced the third phase of INDH (2019-23), aimed at improving human development indicators in education, health and training and improving basic infrastructure in poor regions.

Disparities are evident in big cities with the existence of shantytowns, which the government had hoped to eradicate by 2010 with its “Cities without Slums” project.

Abdelahad Fassi-Fihri, minister of National Planning, Urban Planning, Housing and Urban Policy, said Casablanca has more than 36,000 barracks, despite 15 years of large financial investment to eradicate them.

Alioua said Moroccans’ standard of living has improved but not in line with the country’s GDP growth.

“Unfortunately, the situation is worrying in Morocco because political parties’ programmes favour other things than debating a sound social welfare system that would help fight inequalities and boost the middle class in our society,” he said.

Protests over unemployment and worsening living conditions in the northern Rif region and the eastern town of Jerada in recent years have pressured the government to implement social and economic reforms.

Alioua said most Moroccan politicians, lawmakers and wealthy individuals educate their children in private schools and are treated in private hospitals, widening the social gap.

Oxfam’s report revealed that 82% of corporate tax revenue in Morocco comes from just 2% of companies, with the country losing $2.45 billion in tax revenue because of the tax practices of multinationals.

Asmae Bouslamti, head of the Oxfam-Morocco governance programme, said fiscal justice was a great way of achieving social cohesion.

“Fiscal justice helps to correct inequalities by redistributing wealth when it is badly distributed initially and to raise the resources needed to finance infrastructure and public services that benefit the entire community,” she said.