Social security concern | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 05, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 05, 2011

Star Special

Social security concern

The constitution of Bangladesh in its Article 15(d) clearly declares to introduce the Social Security Programme. The constitution spells "the right to social security that is to say, to public assistance in cases of undeserved want arising from unemployment, illness or disablement, or suffered by widows or orphans or in old age or in other such cases."
In spite of constitutional obligation, no government had come forward to implement this constitutional commitment. The present government's election manifesto pledged that the number of poor people will be reduced to 45 million from 65 million by 2013 and will further come down to 22 million in 2021. To reduce poverty, the government has proposed an allocation of Tk.86,891 crore as poverty reduction expenditure for the fiscal year 2011-12, where it was Tk.73,680 crore in the revised budget of 2010-11.
Social Security may be conceptualised as: "the protection which society provides for its members through a series of public measures against the economic and social distress which otherwise would be caused by the stoppage or substantial reduction of earnings resulting from sickness, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, invalidity, old age and death; the provision of medical care; and the provision of subsidies for families with children" (ILO, 1999).
Over the years governments have proposed budgets for social security and welfare sectors. Continuing this government has proposed Tk.2,2556.05 crore for the FY 2011-12 for the social protection and empowerment which is 13.79% of the total budget and 2.51% of GDP.
Social Safety Net is one of the effective ways to reduce poverty. This framework for poverty reduction is divided into four major categories:
* Cash Transfer (allowance) Programmes and Other Activities;
* Food Security Programmes -- Social Protection;
* Micro-Credit Programmes -- Social Empowerment, and
* Development Sector Programmes -- Social Empowerment.
Accordingly, the government has initiated different safety net programmes for improving social security and to protect the poor. Considering cash transfer (allowances) programmes and other activities, the proposed budgetary allocation is Tk.7,125.80 crore, which was Tk.6,414.81 crore in the 2010-11 revised budget.
For the food security programmes (social protection), the proposed budgetary allocation is Tk.7,102.57 crore, which is lower than the previous revised budget (FY 2010-11).
The proposed allocation for micro-credit programmes (social empowerment) is Tk.4,094.65 crore and is Tk.454.25 crore higher than the revised 2010-11 budget. The proposed allocation for the development sector programmes (social empowerments) is Tk.4,233.03 crore for the fiscal year 2011-12, which was Tk.3,606.18 crore in the revised 2010-11 budget.
Under the Social Safety Net Programmes (SSNP) the proposed number of beneficiary is 768.17 lac, which was 808.03 lac in the revised budget of the previous fiscal year (2010-11). This reduction in the number of beneficiary proposed at a time when, people (especially poor and the people with fixed or no income) are facing difficulties to cope with the soaring prices of essential commodities, especially food prices that has accelerated the food inflation and general inflation as well.
The inflation rate is on the rise (10.67%), while food inflation alone recorded 14.36% (April 2011). Therefore, the high inflation rate is boundto have a deteriorating effect on the food and social security situation.
Moreover, the government has predicted the inflation rate to be 7.5% for the FY 2011-12, which might be the elusive dream according to past experience. Hence, the allowance and coverage of the cash transfer programmes should have been revised and increased considering the high price and high inflation rate.
Ensuring social safety and addressing human poverty, proposed more social development programmes in the 2011-12 budget. These expand the Ghore Fera (returning home) programmes, Micro-credit programmes, One Union One Associate Organisation (Samriddhi), Social Investment Programme Project (SIPP) of Social Development Foundation (SDF), a special programme titled New Life, expand the One House One Farm programme, Pension Insurance Scheme.
A lot of programmes are taken by the government to provide food security of the population. Though the programmes are expanding, the un-sustainability or ineffectiveness of the programmes are depicted by the small coverage of population.
From the available data it can be inferred that the budgets were proposed to reduce social vulnerability of people in the short run negating structural development that would improve social security of the poor in the long-run.
Therefore, if all the circumstances are considered, the safety net programmes are not likely to bring any sustained enhancement of social security if effective measures are not undertaken to create employment opportunities, hold back the rising inflation rate, increase public expenditure through demand-based allocation, etc.
The prevailing scenario of poverty, safety net programmes and the government spending carried out regionally would lead to a recommendation for proper planning to be carried out at regional level and sufficient monitoring of the expenditure carried out locally. In this regard, it would be crucial for the government to carry on with survey on poverty at regional level in frequent intervals and identify the groups who are in need of specified government services.
The existing cash and food transfer programmes in safety nets may reduce starvation rate of limited number of people in some specific times but for improving social security situation (in its comprehensive sense) more specific measures addressing long term vulnerability must be taken.
Moreover, the problem of limited scale and population coverage of SSNPs may initiate problems of leakage and misallocation which may go undetected because of inadequate programme monitoring. Lack of accountability, transparency and nepotism of the local government authority make it difficult to proper implementation of these programmes and also reduce the effectiveness of the programmes.
Therefore, provisions must be formulated for programme evaluation and also for understanding of the impacts of programmes. The government has claimed to take steps to develop a database on the beneficiaries of the Social Safety Net Programmes.
However, specific measures are yet to be undertaken. It is very difficult to manage this situation unless the efforts are accelerated. Hence, the government is creative in formulating policies and programmes in an effective way to strengthen the social safety net programmes.
Otherwise, the aim of these programmes might slip away from achieving the targets.

The writer is a researcher at Unnayan Onneshan (a policy research organisation based in Dhaka).

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