By Dr Stephen Kidd, Senior Social Policy Specialist, Development Pathways
In recent years, there has been an increase in AusAID’s commitment to helping countries deliver social protection to vulnerable members of their society. As a member of AusAID’s Social Protection Expert Panel, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a range of AusAID staff as they grapple with the challenge of incorporating a new policy
area into their programs and activities.
I’ve worked on social protection since 2004 and it’s interesting to see how the nature of the debate has changed over the years. When I started, the focus was on trying to convince the international community and the governments of developing countries about the benefits of providing vulnerable people and families with access to regular cash transfers. It does seem a strange debate to have given that in developed countries there is ample evidence of the benefits of establishing a social security safety net. In Australia, for example, child poverty rates would more than double from 11.8 to 26.6 per cent in the absence of social protection. Indeed, debates on social protection in developed countries are not about whether it is necessary, as most recognise that it is, but rather on how it is designed.
I was recently in Laos leading the design of a rural development program for AusAID and examining the potential for AusAID support in a wide range of areas, including access to micro-finance and markets for poor farmers. We also explored opportunities to strengthen social protection within the country. AusAID’s priority is to find innovative ways to assist the growing number of vulnerable people who can no longer depend on traditional family and community support mechanisms. But Laos’ state social protection system largely benefits those who’ve worked in the formal sector; so we’re faced with the challenge of figuring out how AusAID and the Laotian government can begin working together to ensure resources are invested towards protecting Laos’ most
The situation in Laos is typical of many developing countries in which social protection programs—such as pensions, disability benefits, and child grants— either do not exist or are very weak.
Interestingly, while the international community has debated the value of social protection, many developing countries have established their own programs, often hidden from the view of their development partners.
The Pacific region is case in point, as it is often assumed that formal social protection is not necessary due to strong kinship networks that ensure care for the most vulnerable. Yet a recent AusAID study (to be released later this year) has highlighted how these networks are breaking down and a number of countries have established their own social protection programs. For example, Kiribati, Samoa, Nauru, Niue, Tuvalu and the Cook Islands provide regular pensions to all older people, while Fiji has a Family Assistance program providing monthly cash transfers to 13 per cent of the population. There are even some surprising examples: in Vanuatu, a group of landowners have
established their own old age pension, while in Papua New Guinea the island of
New Ireland has been providing universal pensions and disability benefits for
the past two years.
I’ve worked for AusAID in both Kiribati and Fiji, and I’ve met a number of people for whom regular cash transfers have made a tremendous difference. Even though families receive only small amounts of cash every month (often no more than A$40), it’s enough to significantly enhance their wellbeing, improve nutrition and enable children to continue in school.
In Fiji, AusAID is developing an initiative to provide social protection support for the most disadvantaged children so that they can attend school and have a real chance in life. AusAID’s support for social protection is growing across the world, and Indonesia is fast becoming AusAID’s flagship social protection program. The agency is working with the Indonesian Government to design and finance an old age pension and disability benefit system. AusAID is also supporting the development of a National Strategy that will set out the future direction of social protection in Indonesia, and help improve the delivery of existing social protection programs. AusAID’s investment in Indonesia will enable many of the poorest and most vulnerable families to gain some security in their lives and invest in the future of their children.
AusAID’s commitment to investing in social protection is a recognition that, while it is important to invest in economic growth and help people gain more productive livelihoods and employment, there will always be many who cannot benefit from these more traditional development activities.
If development assistance is to be comprehensive and inclusive there is a need to direct substantial resources to supporting the most vulnerable. As Australia’s own experience shows, when societies develop there is an increasing need for formal social protection
programs to ensure that no one falls below a minimum standard of living.
Many developing countries are taking the first steps to ensure a fair and just distribution of national resources, with AusAID accompanying them on their journey.
About the author: Dr. Stephen Kidd
Dr. Stephen Kidd is a consultant on social protection and a member of AusAID’s Social Protection Expert Panel. Between 2007 and 2009, he was Director of Policy at HelpAge International and, from 2001 to 2007, worked for DFID. He led DFID’s Social Protection and Equity and Rights policy teams, and also worked as a Social Development Adviser on DFID’s China and Latin America programmes. Prior to that, he lectured in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. He has engaged on social development and social protection issues in over 25 countries.