New Policy in Focus magazine addresses the current state of non-contributory social protection in the MENA region

Brasília, 22 December 2017—The International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) is glad to bring you a new issue of our flagship publication—the Policy in Focus magazine. “Social Protection after the Arab Spring” features specialist guest editors Rafael Osorio and Fábio Veras (IPC-IG) and gathers 17 articles with diverse perspectives from leading scholars, researchers and practitioners to examine the current state of non-contributory social protection in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as a whole and in specific countries, and explore how these countries have been coping with and learning from recent economic and humanitarian crises.

Since achieving their independence, countries in the MENA region have assimilated or otherwise adapted formal social protection schemes established by former colonial powers, which have proven to be regressive and highly subsidised, and therefore unable to protect the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population engaged in the informal sector or rural labour. Formal non-contributory social protection systems in the region are now are undergoing substantive reforms, aiming at phasing out subsidies, redirecting investments and improving targeting mechanisms.

However, these reform efforts face three great challenges. First, the stunted economic growth in most MENA countries, triggered by the global economic crisis and falling oil prices. The second challenge is the combination of high food prices and unemployment, which leads to increased poverty and greater demand for the support of non-contributory social protection. The third challenge is the rise of conflicts in the region and their consequences, such as millions of internally displaced persons and refugees, which puts added strain on the already challenging task of supporting vulnerable nationals.

After a general overview article by Rafael Osorio and Fabio Veras, Markus Loewe (German Development Institute) analyses the onset and evolution of pension schemes in the region, pointing out that national programmes vary in membership criteria and benefit packages. However, most people in the region still lack access to these schemes, and therefore public pensions have only a limited impact on income poverty and might even contribute to income inequality in some countries.

In the following article, Rana Jawad (University of Bath) delves into the historical and sociological reasons underpinning the development of social welfare systems in the region, which have been skewed toward the interests of political and urban elites. In the absence of universal social protection programmes provided by the State and markets, communities and families end up playing a key role.

Stephen Devereux (Institute for Development Studies) highlights the pressing concern of many countries in the MENA region to address the urgent issue of internally displaced persons and refugees—who must rely on humanitarian aid from international organisations since national social protection systems usually do not cover them. He highlights the need for better integration between food security and social protection policies, and points out the need to balance scaling up modern social protection schemes and reforming old fashioned subsidies.

Improving child protection in social policy programmes is also a major issue for Arthur van Diesen (UNICEF MENARO) in his article, which highlights children’s well-being as a shortcoming of social protection systems in MENA countries. One in four children in 11 countries are suffering from acute multidimensional poverty. Despite some progress, the author argues that more needs to be done and urgently, as child-sensitive social protection systems in the region have the potential to reduce childhood deprivation. Van Diesen lists five principles that could lead to an improvement in this area.

In the following article, Gisela Nauk (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) argues that social protection systems of MENA countries produce a rift in the population, dividing people between the ‘protected’ and the ‘unprotected’. In this context, she explains that, after the Arab Spring, many countries have been trying to increase social expenditure, with limited impacts on poverty and inequality.

Kishan Khoday (UNDP Regional Hub for Arab States) discusses the challenges of climate change in the Arab region—already one of the world’s most water insecure and oil dependent regions—and possible links with social protection. He highlights the need to better integrate social protection policies with the SDGs.

Like Khoday, Verena Damerau and Oscar Ekhdal (WFP) reflect on the challenges posed by ongoing conflicts and displacement of people in the region. They argue that public works programmes tailored to the agricultural sector and building infrastructure in rural communities is a way to increase linkages between social protection, food security and resilience to climate change.

A call for greater integration between agricultural and social protection policies to tackle rural poverty in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region is at the heart of Flavia Lorenzon’s (FAO) piece, which highlights that that poor people in rural areas do not benefit from food subsidies as producers.

Based on a mapping of more than 100 non-contributory social programmes, Charlotte Bilo and Anna Carolina Machado (IPC-IG) show that unconditional and in-kind transfers are the prevalent form of non-contributory social protection in the MENA region, followed by energy and school subsidies, and assess their child-sensitive featuresGabrielle Smith discusses the integration between humanitarian assistance programmes and national social safety nets, sharing a some of the UNICEF’s experience in the region.

Turning to more country-specific views, Sarah Shahyar (UNICEF Syria) provides an in-depth assessment of social protection in contemporary Iran. She argues that the new social protection institutions that emerged from the 1979 Revolution were not integrated with existing ones, leading to the development of a dual system.

In the following article, Mahdi Halmi  (UNICEF Morocco) shows how Morocco managed to reduce poverty significantly and to advance in many dimensions of well-being following greater public investments on social policies. However, challenges remain regarding multidimensional child poverty: four out of 10 children still experience multiple deprivations in the country.

Morocco’s is also at the centre Mario Gyoeri, Fabio Veras and Alexis Lefévre (IPC-IG)’s article, which provide a detailed account of the first targeted cash transfer programme in the MENA region: the Tayssir  programme, which is known for its substantive impacts on educational outcomes—even larger than those of its Latin American counterparts.

Amina Said Alsayyad (Al-Azhar University) describes how Saudi Arabia is trying to recast its social contract and reduce its oil dependency by diversifying the economy and investing in human development. This will be accomplished under the Saudi Vision 2030, a national strategy aligned with the SDGs.  Abdel-Rahmen El Lahga’s article focuses on Tunisia’s energy subsidy reforms and the possibility of implementing a compensatory cash transfer programme, discussing its possible impacts on poverty.

Concluding this issue of Policy in Focus is an article penned by Atif Khurshid (UNICEF Iraq), with an analysis of the evolution of social protection in Iraq, starting with the economic crisis that arose from the international sanctions imposed after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The author argues that to better cope with increasing poverty within the limits of a tight fiscal space, the country should phase out subsidies and reallocate resources to targeted cash transfers.

Friday, December 22, 2017 - 15:30