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Social security programmes in Bangladesh date back to the 1970s, but continue to be plagued by errors, including a failure to reach those who need it the most. Today, we must look beyond cash allowances and focus on lowering dependency on such programmes.
What is the biggest challenge in implementing a social security programme that efficiently reaches the people who need it the most?
Getting a wide range of stakeholders to work together.
This was the question that emerged at a joint panel on social security programmes hosted by BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative and International Fund for Agricultural Development during the recently concluded COP27. Stefanie Bitengo, Assistant Director of National Social Protection Secretariat of Kenya, came up with the answer stated above.
It was interesting because of the similarity in the nature of the challenge faced in the implementation of social protection programmes in Bangladesh, some six thousand kilometres away from Kenya.
Social protection mechanisms are essentially the actions reflecting the core values of a welfare state. As many countries of the global south had adopted welfare regimes nearly simultaneously in the latter part of the 20th century, the opportunities and challenges faced by these mechanisms are also common across the developing nations of the south, be it Kenya or Bangladesh.
Genesis and evolution of social protection
Born out of the ruins of the second world war, social protection mechanisms were aimed to tackle five ‘giants’ – namely want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness – by its proponent William Beveridge, a British economist and politician. Over the years, these systems have evolved globally through trial and error, and incremental innovations.
Taking into consideration such risk factors as natural disasters, climate change and food price shocks, policymakers aim to create social safety nets, usually in the form of cash, food and other kinds of support, to improve the socioeconomic conditions of citizens living in poverty.
Bangladesh has a social protection system based on the principle ‘leave no one behind.’ However, in the rapidly developing country, parts of the target group of such programmes, especially those living in remote areas and those who face barriers such as disability, often miss out on social protection assistance. Social security programmes are likely to yield the intended result – the alleviation of poverty – only if the right people can be reached.
The Achilles heel: Error in targeting
Data shows that the social security system in Bangladesh suffers from a 71% error of exclusion (a failure to reach those most in need of social protection) and a 46.5% error of inclusion (reaching those who may not be in vulnerable situations). As a result, a considerable investment – 2.5% of Bangladesh’s annual gross domestic product – is failing to have the desired impact.
If the aim of social safety programmes is to lift people out of vulnerable socioeconomic situations in the long run, they must provide tools that will help people escape poverty.
The net and the ladder
Experts believe that a combination of ‘social safety net’ and ‘social security ladder’ – mechanisms that provide capital and training respectively – can prevent people from falling back into the poverty trap. It involves providing tools so that people ultimately no longer need the assistance.
Local non-government organisations can play a crucial role here, by modifying existing development programmes, as well as helping to improve targeting at the grassroots level and collecting relevant data that inform policies to accurately reflect efficiency gaps.
The Graduation approach is an example of such a ‘net and ladder’ combination. It connects participants to social protection systems that meet their basic needs while also providing them with tools which allow them to develop sustainable livelihoods and ensure upward economic mobility. This approach has been replicated across the globe for its holistic treatment of poverty.
Harnessing the power of collaboration
Approaches that look beyond cash allowances can be effectively incorporated into government social protection programmes as well. BRAC and the Cabinet Division of Bangladesh recently organised a workshop to help revive the government and non-government organisation (GO-NGO) collaboration platform, which saw its momentum stalled due to COVID-19.
The GO-NGO collaboration platform aims to build consensus among all relevant stakeholders to realise the vision of a country free of hunger and poverty.
Bangladesh has a long history of social security programmes which have shaped today’s National Social Security Strategy. It has adopted a lifecycle approach developed by William Beveridge, which involves long-term planning of programmes directed at different stages of life, such as childhood, school, youth, working age and old age.
Last year, BRAC spent approximately BDT 68 billion (USD 680 million) on social protection interventions. Seen through Beveridge’s life cycle lens, 33% of this was spent on human development and social empowerment, impacting people at all the stages of life, putting a special focus on women. 25% was spent on social insurance for the youth and the working aged population, 36% on labour and livelihoods interventions for the youth, working aged and elderly sections of the population, and 3% each on social allowance and food security, and disaster response for people at all stages of life.
In partnership with the government, stakeholders can use the GO-NGO collaboration platform to share best practices and meaningfully support the national efforts in poverty alleviation.
The Advocacy for Social Change programme at BRAC works to maximise the impacts of policy change by closely collaborating with the government, private sector and civil society organisations and platforms. Social protection is a core area where the programme is working to ensure inclusivity by proactively advocating for strategic public policy reforms. Click here to learn more about BRAC’s work in advocacy.
Promiti Prova Chowdhury is deputy manager, outreach and capacity, Advocacy for Social Change programme at BRAC.
Mohammad Maruf Hasan is lead, policy and partnership, Advocacy for Social Change programme at BRAC.