THE RELEVANCE OF SOCIAL PROTECTION OR SAFETY NETS FOR THE MARGINALISED POPULATION
UPSC MAINS SOCIOLOGY SYLLABUS
Paper 2 – Section C
(vii) Challenges of Social Transformation:
(a) Crisis of development: displacement, environmental problems and sustainability.
(b) Poverty, deprivation and inequalities.
(c) Violence against women.
(d) Caste conflicts.
(e) Ethnic conflicts, communalism, religious revivalism.
(f) Illiteracy and disparities in education.
Social protection is concerned with protecting and helping those who are poor and vulnerable, such as children, women, older people, people living with disabilities, the displaced, the unemployed, and the sick. There are ongoing debates about which interventions constitute social protection, and which category they fit under, as social protection overlaps with a number of livelihoods, human capital and food security interventions. Social protection is commonly understood as “all public and private initiatives that provide income or consumption transfers to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks and enhance the social status and rights of the marginalised; with the overall objective of reducing the economic and social vulnerability of poor, vulnerable and marginalised groups”.
Safety nets’ are a form of social protection which help people meet immediate basic needs in times of crisis. Typical short-term goals are to mitigate the immediate impact of shocks and to smooth consumption. Other forms of social protection aim at longer-term development and enabling people to move permanently out of poverty.
TYPES OF SOCIAL PROTECTION
Labor market interventions are policies and programs designed to promote employment, the efficient operation of labor markets, and the protection of workers.
Social insurance mitigates risks associated with unemployment, ill-health, disability, work-related injury, and old age, such as health insurance or unemployment insurance.
Social assistance is when resources, either cash or in-kind, are transferred to vulnerable individuals or households with no other means of adequate support, including single parents, the homeless, or the physically or mentally challenged.
WHO NEEDS SOCIAL PROTECTION AND WHY ?
Childhood: when social protection is most crucial
Early childhood is a pivotal period of accelerated physical, cognitive and psychological development. Experiences during this time can have life-long effects. Available data show that most countries provide periodic cash benefits to children and families. Coverage of such benefits is universal in most developed countries but low in many developing countries, where the needs are greatest. In the last two decades, tax- financed social assistance has helped extend the reach of programmes to children and families in less developed countries. On average, Governments currently invest only 1.1 per cent of their gross
domestic product (GDP) in child and family benefits (excluding spending on health).
From youth to adulthood: turning risks into opportunities
The transition to adulthood can be a time of enormous opportunities—but also risks. Globally, the youth unemployment rate is twice as high as the total unemployment rate. Even if they do find a job, young people are overrepresented in so-called vulnerable employment, often in the informal sector. Failing to invest in youth—by, for instance, limiting access to unemployment insurance for first-time job seekers or providing health care to workers in formal employment only—can have long-term costs, including squandered human capital and social unrest. Excluded young people miss out on opportunities for training and
skills development. Furthermore, young parents who live in poverty cannot afford to invest in the health and education of their children, perpetuating the cycle of inter-generational poverty.
Old age: responding to a rapidly ageing population
The number of persons aged 60 and over is projected to double from 2015 to 2050.4 As the share of older persons continues to grow in countries around the world, the need to guarantee their income security will become increasingly urgent. In countries with comprehensive social protection systems, older persons can rely on pensions to partly meet their needs. In many developing countries, however, a high proportion of older persons receive no public support whatsoever and face high economic and social insecurity. Meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding older population will be critical to achieving the SDGs. As the share of older persons grows, Governments will need to find the right balance between expanding coverage while providing adequate benefits and ensuring the long-term sustainability of pension schemes.
Persons with disabilities: breaking down barriers
An estimated 15 per cent of the world’s population experience moderate or severe disability—that is, severe or extreme impairments, limitations in functioning and restrictions in participation. Persons with disabilities routinely face accessibility and attitudinal barriers that hinder their participation in social, economic and political life. They have less access to education, poorer health and lower participation in the formal labour market than people without disabilities and, as a result, are at considerable risk of poverty. Social protection schemes are just one of the policy tools needed to support per-
sons with disabilities and their families, and they must be carefully designed, lest they undermine economic participation. For example, when eligibility for benefits is conditional on a person’s inability to work, it perpetuates dependency and reinforces negative stereotypes. An inclusive approach to social protection empowers its recipients and ensures a basic income for all individuals, regardless of circumstances.
Ethnic minorities and indigenous people: marginalisation as norm
Indigenous peoples and members of ethnic or racial minorities are generally at higher risk of poverty than the rest of the population. They also face substantial disadvantages in access to health care, education and employment. Members of these groups often live in rural and remote areas that lack adequate infrastructure and services. In cities, living in areas of concentrated poverty contributes to their marginalization. Whether social protection programmes benefit indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities depends on how well they address the needs of these groups and the challenges they face. These include geographic isolation, inadequate infrastructure, lack of information in local languages and discrimination. Intercultural dialogue and the participation of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in the design and implementation of social protection measures can help overcome these barriers.
INCLUSIVE SOCIAL PROTECTION
Inclusion requires that social protection systems meet the needs of a diverse popula- tion at all stages of the life cycle. Contributory schemes rely on the payment of contributions, which may not be affordable to all. Inclusive social protection systems must therefore guarantee access to a minimum set of tax-financed alternatives. The right to social protection for all cannot be realized if it fails to reach those who need it most.
All persons should be covered by social protection systems without discrimination.8 Universal programmes—available to all without conditions—are most likely to ensure inclusion and non-discrimination.
Social protection transfers are often inadequate or insufficient in amount or duration to guarantee income security and health for all. Tax-financed schemes, in particular, tend to be lacking. If social protection systems are to make a meaningful impact on inclusion, many countries will need to increase investments in social protection and sustain such investments through economic cycles.
Social protection is fundamental for achieving the SDGs. Despite gaps in coverage, social protection systems are crucial to keeping people out of poverty and helping them to escape poverty. They have also contributed to gains in health and education among beneficiaries and helped to reduce income inequality. As the 2030 Agenda recognizes, the SDGs and their targets are integrated and indivisible. Social protection policies exemplify how efforts to achieve one goal are inextricably linked to efforts to achieve others.