SSNs need to expand in response to C-19
Social Safety Net Program (SSNP) is a programmatic mechanism for maintaining social harmony through redistribution of resources towards the disadvantaged groups. It is supposed to play the role of social insurance through alleviating miseries of vulnerable poor or those at risk of being poor due to any irrevocable physical or economic shocks. The SSNPsare broadly divided into four fields:
(i) Provision of special allowances for the various underprivileged sections of the population, so that the poor and disadvantaged people can tackle poverty effectively
(ii) Creation of employment opportunities for the poor people
(iii) Food security based activities to reduce the consequences of natural disasters; and
(iv) Provision of education, health and training to make the new generation more capable and self-reliant.
During this pandemic income of the common people has reduced, which now threatens our achievements in poverty alleviation and social security. For absorbing the shock of COVID-19 impact, the current budget proposed an allocation of Tk. 955.74 billion for the social security sector, which is 16.83 per cent of total proposed budget and 3.01 per cent of GDP.
To expand the coverage of some programs to alleviate the predicament of the poor amid the situation the government can take the following initiatives:
1. In order to save the livelihoods of the poor from the impact of coronavirus-led income shortfall government can make direct cash transfers and interest-free microcredit distribution to alleviate their sufferings. Again credit should also be secured with flexible terms and conditions - even without relevant documentation and introducing a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to the budgetary framework can bring about greater transparency.
Additional allocations will also be made for the old-age allowance and widow's allowance or disability allowance. All widows and women abandoned by their husbands ought to be brought under the coverage of the existing allowance program for women.
2. The government has to regenerate the rural economy by creating strength and interest. For keeping the rural economy moving it is necessary to create self-employment opportunities for the poor and helpless in rural areas. Rapid implementation of the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) would help the government target those who are in genuine need. Strict monitoring must be in place to ensure the expenditure is being carried out properly.
Additionally, from the existing support-based programs, the safety net scheme should be gradually shifted towards employment-generation through small-scale credit and training schemes.
3. Special allocations should be made for safeguarding the "new poor" people who have fallen into poverty due to the pandemic. In the informal sector a self-claim system should be introduced and local and sector-based representatives' can help to prepare an inclusive list of them. Therefore, digitization of the beneficiary list on the basis of the NID is essential.
But in time of implementing these schedules government has to face significant challenges. Because, Social distancing measures posture obstacles to targeting new beneficiaries, as this typically involves in-person interviews or local committees meeting to monitor applicants. So there exists a risk of coronavirus transmission.
4. Initiatives towards the urban poor--especially those living in urban slums should also be generated. There should be specific programs targeted towards slum residents, the homeless population and street children. Government rationing in different areas can be an effective measure in this purpose.
Yet again, to build and repair rural infrastructure government can strengthen Food for Work, Work for Money, Test Relief schemes and launch the vulnerable group feeding program.
5. The coverage of social security programs should have to be extended - including working lactating mothers' assistance program, VGD activities, poor mothers, tea garden workers and members of the third gender. Money should have to be spent on social security instead of financing projects that are not significant.
Special allowance for improving the living standards of Bede and disadvantaged communities, their educational stipend and training facilities should have to be continued for a longer period.
6. The government needs to urgently address the ensuring flexibility and protecting the financial health of families and individuals, build robust and adaptable businesses and employment opportunities and reduce COVID-19 transmission rates by improving social-safety net programs.
Again, to fight against the downturn during this pandemic the most important aspect is survival. Government has to ensure survival of the peoples and institutions, so that after a certain period they can come in main income stream. Social-safety net programs are very much important consideration in attempting this.
7. It is also necessary to introduce more aggressive cash transfer schemes and provide incentives using extensive coverage in most poor and affected areas by expanding social-safety net programs. Different NGOs and CBOs can play a vital role in this case by ensuring right targeting of beneficiaries and making a database of the recipients to avoid duplication.
Furthermore, along with providing financial support, they can ensure technical support to the largest safety net programs in Bangladesh to improve their poverty impact.
8. Social safety nets can also recover health, including for newborns, and through improved nutrition when combined with complementary nutrition programs. Therefore, countering the economic struggle of the pandemic by providing a fiscal stimulus in this sector may generate positive multiplier effects during the recovery.
In conclusion, it is notable that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman started the 'Rural Social Services Program' in 1974 in 19 thanas to eradicate rural poverty.
We are hopeful that, Bangladesh has over the years fabricated a good basis for social security as a basic strategy to deal with the triple problem of poverty, vulnerability and marginalization. The Government of Bangladesh embarked upon the preparation of a comprehensive National Social Security Strategy to organize and merge the existing programs to achieve better competence and consequences. SSPS, with technical assistance from DFAT/DFID/UNDP, now backings the Government to squeeze the National Social Security Strategy through the Social Security Policy Support (SSPS) Program in partnership with the Cabinet Division and the General Economics Division of the Planning Commission.
Our government has been increasing the allocation in the social security sector every year to improve the condition of the poor. Recently, the government has announced to cover the poor families of Bangladeshis working abroad and the returnees under social security net programs.
Dr A T M Rezaul Hoque is a Professor, Department of Economics, Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University