Towards a Comprehensive Social Protection System in a World where Risks Don’t Stop Growing

Many Arab countries, including Palestine, lack an effective social protection system due to the lack of an incubator to establish and maintain this system, which is a social security institution.

Written by: Naser Damaj

Many Arab countries, including Palestine, lack an effective social protection system due to the lack of an incubator to establish and maintain this system, which is a social security institution. In turn, this spoils all attempts to reach the social justice that we seek. To preserve the attempts that expand the scope of support programs, efforts are limited to emergency departments in the form of in-kind emergency cash assistance, such as those implemented by ministries of social affairs for beneficiaries of social support programs or emergency interventions involving civil society institutions.

These institutions, which aspire to build a productive partnership with governments for the purpose of establishing and consolidating social protection systems, will have a great impact, if successful, in delineating effective and sustainable social protection programs. However, the failure of the two sides to achieve this is due to the lack of trust between them, which keeps the shortcomings and deficits inherent in all attempts to fulfill this compulsory national requirement. The Arab societies will be the ones who pay for this failure, especially those who need both emergency and permanent social protection and assistance.

What is Meant by Social Protection?

Social protection consists of sustainable programs and interventions that aim to reduce social and economic risks and vulnerabilities, alleviate extreme poverty and deprivation, empower people with the right to education, medicine and decent living and protect those at risk of losing their livelihoods. Social protection also seeks to reduce the social and economic vulnerability of the poor and groups not covered by the social security system, especially informal employment.  

In light of the increase in the number of individuals and families in need of social protection mechanisms, which have high flexibility in responding to disasters and shocks that afflict people’s lives from time to time it is imperative to adopt modern and sustainable social protection systems and policies that protect all citizens. Those who currently benefit from this system are public officials, regular private sector employees and/or those involved in social security institutions. Despite the great progress in expanding the scope of social protection around the world, the human right to social protection has not materialized as it should for most of the population of the Arab world.

The data of global reports monitoring and following up on the state of social protection indicate that 45% of the population of the Arab world receives at least one social benefit annually. This percentage includes 200,000 Palestinian families who receive support and various social protection services from the Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs, such as cash, health insurance or food.

The Role of Social Protection Systems in Empowering Marginalised Communities:

Social protection systems help individuals and families, especially the poor and vulnerable, to confront crises and shocks, find employment opportunities, improve productivity, invest in children’s health and education and protect the elderly. The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions demanded, with the beginning of the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, the adoption of a modern law on social security in Palestine and the implementation of social protection programs that reach all those who need assistance, which is central to enhancing efforts to end poverty and promoting shared prosperity. These programs include: providing social assistance and support benefits for those of working age in the event of maternity, disability, employment injury and unemployment, as well as covering pensions for the elderly and providing social insurance, tax-funded social benefits, social assistance services and other programs that guarantee income security.

The pursuit of the embodiment of social protection systems by national governments, civil society institutions and unions is of the highest priority, considering their contribution in achieving sustainable development to promote social justice. This is also one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all and achieve universal health coverage.

Social protection systems, if well designed and implemented, may have a strong impact on the conditions of the Arab world in the short and long term future through their contribution in strengthening our human capital, reducing inequalities, building resilience to shocks, ending the cycle of poverty and preventing its inheritance among generations.

The Coronavirus Crisis Demonstrated the Urgent Need for Comprehensive Social Protection:

In one way or another, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered the reality of the state of social justice in the Arab world and in Palestine, thus prompting us to ask the following questions together: what are the main obstacles and constraints that prevent countries from increasing social protection for all those in need? How can we bridge the human-development gap, ensure the continued response to emergency social protection and contribute to strengthening national systems?

Bear in mind, that the answer to these questions will be broader than what we imagine due to the participatory nature of the causes that are complex and constantly overlapping, as the rate of failure increases because there are constant risks when planning.   

The difficulty of the task stems from its importance that it must be achieved, as it helps devote social protection systems to individuals and families in normal conditions and in light of health and environmental disasters, civil wars, displacement and other life path disturbances.

Recommendations:

  1. The necessity to adopt clear social protection mechanisms and strategies that are comprehensive, transparent and accountable, to ensure a decrease in unemployment and poverty and protect vulnerable families by addressing the dilemma of daily deprivation.
  2. Empowering families and individuals, in need of support, to access the resources needed to live a free and dignified life, enhanced by decent work and social protection for all.
  3. The necessity of having a social security institution that provides its social and health services to the public in the best way.
  4. Calling for the establishment of the National Aid Fund, the activation of the social safety net and the design of specific programs to fight unemployment and poverty, considering the activation of the complementarity between these sectors and the oversight of the implementation of its obligations in this aspect.
  5. Obtaining a social protection system based on fundamental rights and guaranteed by law to all groups of society without discrimination, and in all stages of life, so that it includes the minimum income to ensure a decent life for people. This calls for increased social spending to provide social and health protection for children, women and men of working age and for older men and women.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.

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