Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Jonelle Llewellyn | Race to equality - Finishing strong with social protection

Published:Thursday | April 29, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Jonelle Llewelyn
Jonelle Llewelyn

As expected, Global North takes the lead. However, a late entry, COVID-19, leaps ahead and in turn fires the starting gun twice. Late starters, the Global South, somehow retreats to the tunnel - staring at the finish line - pondering their strategy for the next set of rounds.

We have witnessed the management of the pandemic and measured a country’s success by their approaches to dealing with public health, coupled with how inequality is addressed. But what happens for those that didn’t prioritise such, or found it difficult to tackle while grappling with other harsh realities?

Focusing on social protection is an evidence-based solution to qualify in the race for good social standings. Public arrangements with the aim of assisting individuals and households in alleviating their exposure to risks should enhance livelihoods. Achieving this is, however, dependent on the preparation of the state and how resilient its economy is.

Oxfam’s policy paper on fighting inequality in the time of COVID-19, ‘The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRI) 2020’, shares:

“Only one in six countries assessed for the CRI Index 2020 were spending enough on health, only a third of the global workforce had adequate social protection, and in more than 100 countries, at least one in three workers had no labour protection such as sick pay. As a result, many have faced death and destitution, and inequality is increasing dramatically.”

There is an interactive map which showcases both country-based and regional/income-grouped data for varying components of the index. A comparative analysis was done of our two neighbours - Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago; the often-supposed ‘country match’ to potential economic development - Singapore; and Germany as a random selection of a European state.

On assessing ‘social protection spending as a percentage of a budget’, the data show all aforementioned countries are outperforming Jamaica in allocated resources for safety net programmes. If we are to look on such intervention as government aid through supplemental instruments to cope, why is it that some states opt to have a greater issuance than others? If we know that existing poverty is exacerbated by the pandemic, and the shock value continues to increase with its tenancy, why are we delaying the efforts of generating well-designed or improved safety nets?

Promotes growth

Social protection does not equate to handouts. In fact, its intention is to promote growth, where members of the vulnerable population are propelled to engage in the economy, expand their opportunities, and invest in human capital without greatly sacrificing their livelihoods.

A ‘data dive’ was done into Germany’s approach to their almost 50 per cent budgetary earmark for social protection. Their Hartz Commission - Germany’s backbone to social policy - was “installed with unemployed as ‘clients’ who, on the one hand, have a legal claim to receive state support and, on the other hand, have to fulfil certain responsibilities/conditions” . (Hackenburg 2010.) Hackenburg’s article, ‘Social Protection in Germany: Current challenges and lessons learnt from an ongoing reform process’, speaks to public insurance schemes; unemployment benefit; and social assistance. The reform of Hartz boasts success in the following areas:

• Improved efficiency of supporting claimants by merging former unemployment aid and social assistance to one programme;

• Increased incentives to take up employment and reduced long-term unemployment (longer than 12 months);

• Supported positive trends during the last economic boom with the creation of 1.3 million new employment, compared to 700,000 during the previous boom phase;

• Improved counselling and support to the unemployed;

• Gave municipalities increased authority to engage in employment activities.

In Jamaica, the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education, the flagship public assistance safety net system, has seen improvements in its service delivery, but opportunities exist with the following recommendations being made:

• A consolidation of social assistance programmes for efficiency and increased access to benefits, primarily by strengthening ONE system, as opposed to independent Government of Jamaica (GOJ) pension schemes;

• Conduct a pilot study to explore uptake of employment, based on the conditionality of expanding cash transfer/related incentives;

• Adaptation of counselling to the unemployed, exploring causality and prompt for integration/reintegration into the job market;

• This is to be complemented by social enterprise activities spearheaded by the GOJ (through the HEART/NSTA Trust and continued private-sector buy-in);

• Allow for target-driven approaches within each constituency to achieve ‘X’ engagement and increase in employment/employability of unemployed beneficiaries.

Prior to developing new policies or initiating reforms, questions should be answered to adequately address social protection, especially in the advent of COVID-19: Who are the poor and vulnerable groups? Has this changed since COVID-19? What are the risks being faced? Which programme addresses these groups and their related risks? Where are the gaps? What has worked, and what didn’t work? What are the opportunities for an equal society?

Jonelle Llewellyn is a research associate at the Violence Prevention Alliance.