Social protection needs more in next budget

Identifying the most deserving beneficiaries of social protection programs is a challenge that needs to be addressed urgently. Picture: star

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Identifying the most deserving beneficiaries of social protection programs is a challenge that needs to be addressed urgently. Picture: star

The social protection allocation in the annual budget has steadily increased over the past 14 years. In the financial year 2008-09, a total of Taka 13,845 crore was allocated for social welfare programmes. This allocation represented 14.71% of the annual budget and 2.25% of GDP. In the budget for the financial year 2021-22, Taka 107,614 crore has been allocated for social welfare programs. It represented 17.83% of the annual budget and 3.11% of GDP. However, it has not been possible to cover all those eligible for the various social protection programs despite the sustained increase in budgetary allocations.

The number of households benefiting from social protection programs in the country has increased two and a half times, from 12% in 2005 to 30% in 2020. The number of programs has also increased from 77 in the fiscal year 2009- 10 to 130 in fiscal year 2019. -20. It is believed that the increased level of public funding has contributed significantly to poverty reduction in Bangladesh. However, there are still more than 10% of people classified as “extremely poor” in the country. This number has increased since mid-2020, due to the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. But due to the lack of reliable data, it is difficult to estimate the percentage of people currently living in poverty. The government undertook to distribute cash and food to help the new poor. These are in addition to regular social protection programs that aim to reduce the social and economic vulnerabilities of poor families.

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There are about 130 social security projects and programs in Bangladesh, the majority of which are small. Only a dozen of them employ almost 80% of the total social security budget. These projects and programs can be mainly categorized in two different ways: 1. By sectors like health, nutrition, education and infrastructure development, and 2. By life cycle, like pregnancy and early age, school age, working age and old age. age.

The Government, under the leadership of the Ministerial Division, has developed the second phase of the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) Action Plan (2021-26) to enhance the overall effectiveness and impact of protection programs social. These programs should adopt appropriate targeting mechanisms to include the most deserving beneficiaries. Gradually, the government has expanded the payment of benefits through the government-to-person (G2P) system, using mobile financial services, for about 68% of total money transfers. This has reduced corruption and is also cost effective and time saving.

After making significant progress on the payment side, the government is now focusing on the targeting side of social protection programs. Identifying the most deserving beneficiaries is a challenge that needs to be resolved urgently for better use of public resources. The government’s recent decision to adopt a universal cash transfer approach to improve coverage of some safety net programs is a good move in this regard.

Over the past two years, three Department of Social Services programs have expanded coverage and introduced an online self-registration system for 112 poor upazilas in 2020-21 and 150 upazilas in 2021-22. The three programs are old age allowance, allowances for widows, abandoned and destitute women and allowances for financially insolvent invalids.

Anyone who thinks they are entitled to one of these allowances can apply through www.mis.bhata.gov.bd. Welfare officers and the upazila, union and paurashava committees verify the information and recommend the enrollment of those eligible for the programmes. The government plans to cover an additional 100 upazilas under this universal approach in the financial year 2022-23.

These three programs genuinely cover the most vulnerable groups in society and universalization of coverage was necessary to cover all who deserve to receive benefits. Universalization has definite financial implications and therefore the government needs to allocate an increased amount of resources to social protection in the 2022-23 budget to cover new claimants. Historically, in the 262 upazilas where the universal approach has been introduced in the last two years, the number of beneficiaries has increased considerably. The old-age allowance now covers 5.7 million beneficiaries in rural and urban areas, which includes about 50% of the country’s elderly population. This number has rapidly increased from 4.4 million in 2018. Widowed, abandoned and destitute women’s allowances currently benefit 2.47 million women, while around one million people receive disability allowances.

In the future, other major social protection programs should also adopt the universal approach, and a digital self-registration system should be introduced for better targeting of beneficiaries.

Dr Nawshad Ahmed is an economist, urban planner and former UN official.

Joel C. Hicks