For most of his adult life, Aslam Rehmat, 53, a dental assistant in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, has struggled to educate his children and put food on the table. Despite his efforts, life is getting harder as inflation hits. Higher education costs are a fresh burden on the family.
Name: Aslam Rehmat
Age: 53 years
Location: Lahore, Pakistan
Does your spouse/partner live with you? Yes, she lives with me.
What is your primary job? My primary job is “junior technician” at Dental College, Lahore [a government-run institution]
What is your monthly salary? My gross monthly salary is $232 and after deductions, I take home $189. [The deductions include tax, group insurance, medical, loan installment, advance salary installment, etc]
What is your household’s total income - including your partner’s salary, and any additional sources? My wife works as a domestic help at a house from where she gets $95 per month. This brings our total monthly income to $284.
How many people are living in your household - what is their relationship to you? My wife and our four children live with me in the same house. My parents also share a portion of the house. So the number of residents would come to eight in our house.
How many are dependent on you/your partner's income - what is their relationship to you? My wife and children [two daughters and two sons] are directly dependent on me and my wife’s incomes. I also try to pay some amount to my parents on a regular basis though they are not directly dependent on my income.
How much do you spend each month on food? Earlier we used to spend $42-53 on our food, but this month it shot up to $74, partially due to inflation affecting gram lentils, milk and cooking oil. We have also bought more, so that food supplies last through the month, as in the past we have run into difficulties as the month draws to an end.
What is your main staple - how much does it cost each month? Our main staples are wheat and rice. Wheat costs us about $10.50 for 20kg and rice costs us $21for 30kg
How much do you spend on rent? I own a small inherited house in a locality of Lahore, so I don’t have to pay any rent.
How much on transport? My minimum expenditure on transport is $1 per day, i.e., $32 per month.
How much do you spend on educating your children each month? The biggest chunk of our income goes to the education of my children. This year it will cost me over $421 on average per month.
After you have paid all your bills each month, how much is left? Our utility bills for the house are 7,000-8,000 rupees each month. So after paying the bills we are left with something between Rs 19,000 and 20,000 [$200-210] every month.
Have you or any member of the household been forced to skip meals or reduce portion sizes in the last three months? We have not skipped any meal but we have definitely cut down on meat and fruits etc.
Have you been forced to borrow money (or food) in the last three months to cover basic household needs? We have to borrow money almost every month.
“It was probably the happiest moment of my life when I got the news that my elder son had been admitted to a private university to pursue his Master of Philosophy degree. But my happiness turned into a nightmare when I learned how much I would have to pay for his fees - and in advance for the whole year. At one point I lost hope and thought it was impossible for me to fund his studies but then my wife encouraged me to look for all possible options. I had to deposit Rs 400,000 [$4,211] for the first year. I will have to deposit the same amount for the two years after that.
“At almost the same time my younger son was admitted to a college where I had to deposit Rs 150,000 [$1,579] for his first year of study. I had to take out all what I had saved and I also took one advance salary and a loan against my provident fund from my office. Similarly my wife secured a loan from her employer and we also borrowed money from relatives. I am not sure how I will manage next year; I can’t see things improving. I am looking for extra work and have asked my elder son to find work too.
“We have cut down on meat and fruit but still barely manage. Next month we have to attend three weddings in our extended family. Weddings are a happy occasion but this is already sending a chill down my spine because attending these functions will cost me a lot of money. Due to our social set-up, I need to attend.
“I am lucky I share a small family house and I don’t have to pay rent.
“I buy foodstuff and daily use items in bulk for the whole month. This saves some money. Each time my wife hands me the shopping list, I strike out many items. With each passing month, the number of items I strike off the list increases; this is where we are heading.
“People like us have the same limited resources while expenditures keep increasing constantly. Those doing their own business may be able to manage but for the salaried class it is simply unbearable. I worry all the time about my children’s education. The sacrifices we have made for this will brighten their futures - and that is the vision I cling on to.”