The Social Safety Net programmes are the basis of the country’s social protection strategy and are the mainstay of the poverty alleviation strategy. As articulated by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, social safety nets are paramount to ‘protect and promote’ the standards of living in a society. A growing body of literature supports this premise. The World Bank’s latest social safety net report, The State of Social Safety Nets 2018, shows that social safety net coverage is increasing in developing and transition countries worldwide and they contribute to reducing poverty and improving the welfare of the poorest. Evidence also shows that social safety nets build household resilience to respond to shocks across the life cycle, key to building human capital.
Generally, social safety net programmes have been broadly divided into five types such as social allowance, social insurance, labour market intervention, informal social protection and miscellaneous types. The safety net programmes in Bangladesh have been contributing to the reduction of poverty and vulnerability by addressing a range of population groups through different forms of assistance. These include the provision of income security for the elderly, widows and persons with disabilities, generating temporary employment for working age men and women, and supporting the healthy development of young mothers and children.At present, nearly 25 per cent of all families in the country are served by social safety net programmes. The government is considering a set of proposals to widen the scope of social safety net programmes in fiscal year 2019-20. A total of Tk. 74,367 crore has been proposed in order to do so, which is 14.21 per cent of the entire proposed budget, and 2.58 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) for FY2019-20. The new social safety net programme offers will include:
♦ The State Honorarium for valiant freedom fighters to be increased from Tk10,000-Tk12,000;
♦ The number of adult allowance recipients to be increased from 4,000,000 to 4,400,000;
♦ The number of widows and victims of domestic violence recipients to be increased from 1,400,000 to 1,700,000;
♦ The number of insolvent persons with disabilities as beneficiaries to be increased from 1,000,000 to 1,545,000;♦ The number of disabled student stipend beneficiaries to be increased from 90,000 to 100,000, and the stipends themselves to be increased from Tk 700 to Tk 750 for primary level students, from Tk 750 to Tk 800 for secondary level students, and from Tk 850 to Tk 900 for higher secondary students;
♦ All third gender persons to be brought under social safety net, the number of beneficiaries of Third Gender Livelihood Development programmes to be increased to 6,000. Additionally, 20,000 gypsies and disadvantaged communities to be added as beneficiaries to the current list of 64,000 persons;
♦ The number of beneficiaries in the financial assistance programme for patients suffering from cancer, kidney disease, liver cirrhosis, paralysis due to stroke, and congenital heart diseases to be increased from 15,000 to 30,000;
♦ The number of beneficiaries in livelihood development programmes for tea-garden workers to be increased from 40,000 to 50,000;
♦ The number of beneficiaries of maternity allowances for poor mothers to be increased from 700,000 to 770,000; and
The number of beneficiaries in lactating mothers’ assistance programmes to be increased from 250,000 to 275,000.
Bangladesh has made significant progress in poverty reduction through coordinated initiatives, including the overall government development programmes, private investment and social security programmes. The poverty rate was 40.0 per cent in 2005, which has been brought down to 21.8 per cent in 2018. The government has declared that it would reduce the poverty rate to 12.30 per cent and extreme poverty rate to 4.50 per cent by 2023-24.
It is clear that the objective of this budget is to facilitate social safety net, equity, and justice. The budget reveals that the government is shifting its policy to social protection systems to make it more effective, target-oriented and pro-poor. Some 23 ministries have been running over 100 social protection programmes. The government is implementing its social safety net programmes under a ‘Social Safety Net Framework’, which is divided into four categories – providing special allowances to different underprivileged sections of the people, employment generation through micro-credit and different fund management programmes, food security based activities for managing the consequences of disaster and providing education, health, training and technical assistance to make the new generation capable and self-reliant.
But many studies have found that big challenges appear on the way of implementation of such programmes that include setting the eligibility criteria in practice, scarcity of resources, demand-supply gap, elite involvement at the local level, and unresponsiveness to changes in people’s needs. However, corruption being a single largest factor has surpassed all these challenges. Due to unfair targeting processes in many social safety nets programmes, many poor and extreme poor are unable to access the schemes they are entitled to and are deprived of their rights.
For this purpose, steps have been taken to establish Management Information System (MIS) for all programmes and database for all beneficiaries. Payments would be made directly from the government to the beneficiaries through the government-to-person (G2P) system, according to the budgetary proposal. Priority is to be given for ensuring selection of genuine beneficiaries to enhance the effectiveness of the social safety net programmes. Presently, monitoring is conducted by the Cabinet Division, but it must be done at the programme level for better outcomes. Besides there have been complaints of pilferage, corrupt practices and overlapping in social protection programmes. The government should strengthen monitoring of its social protection programmes by decentralising the responsibilities of ministries and divisions. If not, the objectives of achieving the targets of these programmes might slip away.
Though the social safety net programmes provide some impetus to drive them out of poverty but in the process the poor might be stuck in the safety net itself. They need a big push to sustainably graduate from poverty. Bangladesh has shown the world that a long list of hardships can be overcome. In fact, its people have shown that innovation, commitment, setting goals, and visionary leadership can accomplish feats that few dared imagine. We believe that Bangladesh can continue to build on this record and can end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity.
(The writer acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)
The writer is a Chinese Government PhD Fellow and Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka