Social Protection :: Technical Areas :: Programming ::

Students at Hillside Basic School in Zambia play during break time. © 2006 Nell Freeman / Alliance.

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Technical Areas

Social Protection

Social protection focuses on long-term outcomes and a greater need for systemic government-led initiatives to sustain interventions that support children and families. The defining feature of social protection is supporting families as direct beneficiaries, with success measured by a family's ability to invest in the education, nutrition, and health of its children (PEPFAR, 2012).

What is social protection?

Experts, policy-makers and implementers often use competing or overlapping terminology and definitions for social protection.  The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief's (PEPFAR) defines social protection as “an umbrella term encompassing an array of government-led policy instruments for reducing vulnerability and risks faced by disadvantaged groups.”  UNICEF endorses a Social Protection Floor (SPF) defined as “the first level of a comprehensive national social protection system that helps realize human rights for all through guaranteeing universal access to essential services (such as health, education, housing, water and sanitation, and other services as nationally defined) and providing social transfers, in cash or in kind, to guarantee income security, food security, adequate nutrition and access to essential services” .

In addtion to overlapping definitions, different social protection frameworks have also emerged.

UNICEF's 2012 Social Protection Framework outlines four Components of Social Protection:

  • Social transfers – Predictable direct transfers to individuals or households to protect them from the impacts of shocks and support the accumulation of human, productive and financial assets. Examples:  cash transfers, (including pensions, child benefits, poverty-targets, seasonal), food transfers, nutritional supplementation, provision of ARVs and public works.
  • Programs to Ensure Access to Services -   Social Protection interventions that reduce the financial and social barriers households face when accessing social services.  Examples: Birth registration, user fee abolition, health insurance, exemptions, vouchers, subsidies, anti-stigma programs to promote access to services.
  • Social Support and Care Services - Human resource-intensive services that help identify and reduce vulnerability and exclusion, particularly at the child and household level.  Examples: Family support services, Home-based care.
  • Legislation and Policy Reform to ensure equity and non-discrimination - Changes to policies/legislation in order to remove inequalities in access to services or livelihoods/economic opportunities, thereby helping to address issues of discrimination and exclusion.  Examples: Minimum and equal pay legislation, employment guarantee schemes, childcare policy, maternity and paternity leave, removal of discriminatory legislation or policies affecting service provision/access or employment, inheritance rights.

Another framework for social protection (Devereaux S. and R. Sabates-Wheeler 2004) emphasises the transformative or political element and the importance of understanding social inequality and exclusion and how that also contributes to poverty.

The Transformative Social Protection Framework includes the following four categories:

1. Provision – Provide access to services for the poor through social transfer delivery mechanisms.
Instruments: Cash Transfers (child support grants, foster care grants, social pensions, unconditional cash transfers);  Food Transfers (supplemental feeding, therapeutic feeding); Health Services (health fee waivers and home-based care); Humanitarian Assistance (OVC reception centers, IDP/refugee camps).

2. Prevention – Encourage moderate risk-taking by devising innovative insurance instruments for the poor.
Instruments: Government (social security systems, strategic grain reserves, pan-seasonal food prices);  Private (weather-indexed insurance, commercial property insurance, remittances) Community (rotating savings and credit groups, burial/funeral societies, village grain banks, community-based health insurance schemes).

3. Promotion- Pro-poor access to education and health services - long-term investment in human capital formation. Instruments: Agriculture  (Agricultural input subsidies, seed fairs, inputs-for-work); Education (Educational material fairs, school fee waivers, school feeding, conditional cash transfers); Infrastructure (public works programs).

4. Transformation- Reverse social exclusion and economic marginalization – e.g. no discrimination against HIV-positive people.  Instruments:  Legislation on economic, social and cultural rights, anti-corruption measures; citizen juries, sensitization/anti-discrimination campaigns, minimum wage legislation, workers' rights (e.g. maternity leave), child rights; eradication of child labor.

Why is social protection important?

Social protection addresses vulnerability and chronic poverty for children and their families. Social protection measures help strengthen people's resilience and prevent them from falling deeper into poverty.  In addition to increasing household income (through cash transfers) social protection offers a systemic, country-owned approach that addresses social and structural causes of poverty and can lead to a more sustainable family-centered response to children affected by HIV/AIDS (PEPFAR, 2012).

Increasing evidence shows that social protection measures lead to positive outcomes for children including: increased family spending on education and health, helping families to cope with the burden of care for ill family members, improved nutritional status of children, lower childhood mortality, less school absenteeism, and a reduction in child labor.  Abolishing user fees for health and education services can make a crucial difference for children by increasing uptake of services, such as immunization, and improving school attendance.

A recent systematic review of evidence on social transfers conducted by the U.K Department for International Development (DFID) concluded that 80 percent of the reviewed programs had a positive effect on reducing family poverty in economic terms (Hagen-Zanker et al. 2011).

Investing in social protection and children makes sense from both an economic and a human development perspective. The demonstrated impacts of social protection on children's development last long beyond childhood, increasing adult productivity, decreasing the burden of human development losses, and contributing to breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.” (UNICEF, 2012)

How should social protection be delivered?

The social and structural causes of poverty are multifaceted and approaches must address a broad range of issues from national level to family level.  Programs must address capacity and sustainability issues and work to strengthen the social service system at all levels. This includes strengthening the social welfare workforce at government, civil society and community level. Para-social workers are frequently the frontline of social protection efforts, identifying eligible families, managing casework and delivering assistance. Building up both the formal government and informal para-social welfare workforce are critical to meeting communities' expanding social protection needs.

Social protection interventions must include multisectoral, integrated services that are context-specific to the needs of children and families.  There is no 'one size fits all'.  The most effective social protection measures for children include a combination of approaches that increase income, improve livelihoods, and address underlying and social causes of vulnerability.  Interventions should build on existing policies and programs and integrate with existing community structures such as schools, health facilities and community groups.  Policies and programs should also be child-sensitive [add link], gender-sensitive and HIV-sensitive to avoid unintentional stigma or discrimination when targeting programs to specific vulnerable groups (i.e., avoid focusing only on orphan status or HIV-infection). 

Social protection measures may be targeted or universal. Targeted social protection is aimed at specific groups of children and families. Universal considers all children to be vulnerable. There are arguments for and against 'universalism' versus 'targeted'. What is critical is that interventions are designed based on a situation analysis, civil society and community involvement and the participation of children and families in need.

Key social protection messages

1. Form strategic alliances with host-country governments and in-country donors to determine the most appropriate types of social protection assistance to support. Base interventions on country context and coordination with other donors.
2. Support host-country governments to initiate, expand and be innovative in social protection initiatives at policy and operational levels.  Strengthen the social welfare workforce and child protection systems at all levels and facilitate coordination between Ministries of Social Welfare and other ministries addressing children's needs.
3. Build Infrastructure: Strengthen systems to accommodate increased demand for services from social protection interventions.  Build on existing government and community policies and programs.
4. Develop social protection responses that account for different causes of vulnerability, contexts and poverty levels. Include complementary activities to address underlying root causes of poverty.  Ensure that social transfers include a range of support services and policies that focus on family support, child protection and longer term livelihoods promotion.  There is no one 'best practice' for social protection.
5. Support and strengthen child-sensitive, gender-sensitive and HIV-sensitive social protection policies and programs. 
6. Strengthen integration of child-sensitive social protection approaches that address social and economic vulnerabilities and include coordinated, quality, multisectoral services. Integrate programs with existing community nutrition-, school-based- and health-programs.
7. Link child-sensitive social protection to the well-being of caregivers and to other stages of the life cycle such as youth employment generation, old-age pensions and others.
8. Address immediate needs for risk reduction (through approaches such as cash transfers) and access to essential services while linking to long-term sustainable social protection programs.
9. Involve children, their caregivers and youth
in the design, implementation and evaluation of child-sensitive social protection programs. Support and strengthen community child protection committees.
10. Target programs to reach marginalized children and youth, including children outside of family care settings, such as migrants and street children. Consider innovative ways of targeting and promoting inclusion.
11. Integrate gender-sensitive approaches, informed by an awareness of how best to address intra-household dynamics. Target female heads of households for cash transfers, based on evidence that female beneficiaries tend to direct resources towards improving outcomes for children.
12. Make targeting sufficiently simple and manageable to avoid a heavy administration burden. Cash transfers, whether universal or targeted, have been shown to impact child poverty.

Key links for social protection