Challenging assumptions and managing expectations: moving towards inclusive social protection in Southeast Asia.
In recent years, social protection has become part and parcel of the development response across the globe. Social protection has been coined a "quiet revolution" (Barrientos and Hulme 2008) and the development success story of the past decade (Devereux, McGregor and Sabates-Wheeler 2011). Latin America houses some of the most long-standing conditional cash transfer (CCT) programmes, and social protection programmes in Africa are rapidly expanding in terms of both scale and coverage. South Asia is home to many innovations in the social protection field including food-related measures and public works programmes (Koehler 2013). As exemplified in this volume's introduction by Cook and Pincus, Asia has long-standing experience with contributory social insurance schemes particularly in the East Asian "developmental states" of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Triggers for the strong global interest in social protection include the recent global economic crises, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the persistence of chronic poverty and food insecurity (Garcia and Moore 2012). In Southeast Asia, the need for stronger social protection systems was already highlighted at the end of the 1990s as the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) lay bare the countries' failing support mechanisms for the poor and most vulnerable (Cook 2009; Ananta 2012). Targeted non-contributory social assistance programmes were (re-)introduced and are still expanding across the region (Cook and Pincus, this issue). The combination of these two types of interventions (contributory and non-contributory), which often include pension and insurance schemes for public and formal workers, social health insurance and cash or in-kind transfers for the poorest and most vulnerable, shows that countries in the region operate increasingly comprehensive social protection systems (Nishino and Koehler 2011). There appears to be considerable scope for the expansion of efforts, particularly in middle-income countries, where the social protection expenditure is well below that of other countries with similar levels of income per capita (ADB 2011).
In line with, or rather as a result of, the ever-expanding canon of evidence on the positive impact of such programmes, expectations of what social protection can and should do have increased considerably. Whilst objectives of social protection a decade ago mainly consisted of consumption smoothing, the provision of a safety net and the alleviation of poverty; programmes are now expected to respond to an array of economic and social problems by playing multiple roles. These include macroeconomic stabilization, the provision of a humanitarian response and the promotion of social justice (Gentilini and Omamo 2011). There is also an increased focus on the role of social protection in stimulating economic growth and productivity (World Bank 2012b; UNDP 2013). In Southeast Asia, social protection is considered a key means of addressing persistent poverty, increasing inequality and the growing impact of climatic and other shocks (Ananta 2012).
Notwithstanding the many achievements and potential benefits of social protection, this paper aims to inject a healthy dose of realism into current debates of social protection. It particularly reflects on the role of social protection in promoting productivity and contributing to economic growth against principles of inclusivity, human rights and social justice. Productivity-enhancing and growth-inducing social protection programmes may operate at the expense of the aforementioned principles. This paper discusses three topical issues within the social protection paradigm to reflect on these concerns in greater detail: (i) individualistic understandings of poverty; (ii) graduation as the "be-all and end-all" of social protection; and (iii) conditions as incentives for behavioural change.
Although of global relevance, these concerns hold particular importance in the Southeast Asian context. The heavy reliance on contributory social insurance schemes across the region and "productivist" models of social protection, such as those implemented in Malaysia and Singapore (Cook and Pincus, this issue), exemplifies the role of social protection in promoting growth and productivity. As postulated by Choi (2012), the productive feature of East Asian welfare states has made social policy subordinate to economic objectives. The heavily targeted and increasingly conditional nature of non-contributory social assistance in Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, is illustrative of concerns around welfare dependency and the misuse of transfers.
To counter this "Machiavellian" type of social protection, this paper advocates Inclusive Social Protection (ISP). ISP focuses on three particular elements: (i) reaching and including everyone who is in need of social protection with appropriate programmes and interventions; (ii) building on realistic expectations of what individuals, households and communities can do to overcome obstacles to moving out of poverty or preventing them from falling into poverty in the first place; and (iii) becoming better integrated with other poverty- and vulnerability-reduction policies (Roelen and Devereux 2013; Devereux and Roelen 2014). The timing for this call for Inclusive Social Protection is particularly apt as we move beyond 2015 --the global economic downturn coupled with rising inequality gives rise to both opportunities and challenges for social protection. This holds particularly true for Southeast Asia, where the continuous expansion of welfare policy in many countries can either cause an unprecedented transformation of its social protection schemes or further lock social protection into its original productivist model (Choi 2012).
The remainder of this paper will discuss each of the three issues: individualistic understandings of poverty (section II); graduation as the "be-all and end-all" of social protection (section III); and conditions as incentives for behavioural change (section IV), before concluding with lessons learned and a case for Inclusive Social Protection (section V).
II. Individualistic Understandings of Poverty
The social protection toolkit is wide and diverse, and the landscape in Southeast Asia illustrates the varied set of programmes and interventions available, often combined into comprehensive (albeit not always very strongly coordinated) systems. Indonesia, for example, operates a three-tiered system that includes conditional and unconditional cash transfer schemes, a "rice-for-the-poor" scheme, a scholarship programme and a cash-for-work intervention (Widianto 2013). Vietnam's social protection efforts include the provision of health insurance cards and favourable access to credit (Huong and Meissner 2013).
The large majority of social protection programmes share a similar characteristic: they are based on the assumption that poverty is primarily a result of individual constraints, such as low levels of education or physical assets. Social protection programmes address these individual constraints, thereby providing the poor with the necessary means to pull themselves out of poverty and improve their living conditions. The specific notion of "productive welfare" in Malaysia exemplifies the emphasis on the individual's responsibility for moving out of poverty, where "[t]he ultimate aim is to encourage the target group to participate and put their own efforts in the programmes" (Hwa 2013).
However, too much of a focus on the individual risks overlooking the structural causes that lock people into poverty and may compromise the extent to which social protection can be truly inclusive. A disregard of structural causes undermines potential pathways out of poverty and vulnerability for those who participate in social protection programmes. In reference to Mexico's well-known CCT programme Oportunidades, for example, Ulrichs and Roelen (2012) argue that structural barriers faced by indigenous people in remote areas--poor quality of education, low social mobility, stigma and discrimination and wage differentials--undermine the benefits of the programme; Oportunidades is therefore not able to support an upward trajectory out of poverty for everyone as envisaged.
A recent review of the "theories of change" of cash transfer programmes by Browne (2013) suggests that individualistic conceptions of poverty and the concurrent lack of acknowledgement of structural barriers, are pervasive features of social protection programmes. A majority of programmes' "theories of change" focus on lifting barriers and incentivizing behaviour at the individual or household level to reduce poverty and increase resilience. Structural barriers remain unaddressed despite the fact that these are potentially more important impediments to escaping poverty. A study of CCT programmes in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia and their impact on educational outcomes for the Roma people, for example, highlights obstacles such as a lack of access to high-quality education, widespread discrimination and segregation (Friedman et al. 2009). Whilst the Child Support Grant in South Africa recognizes the importance of gaining access to quality health and educational services, the bulk of the responsibility for improving short-, medium- and long-term outcomes lies with each household.
Given the large focus on productivity enhancement and people's own role in pulling themselves out of poverty in the Southeast Asian context, the adverse effects of social protection are of particular concern in the region. For instance, Dadap (2011) has criticized the Pantawid Pamilya CCT programme in the Philippines, postulating that it merely serves a neoliberal agenda while masquerading as a poverty and vulnerability reduction programme; it does little to address structural causes of poverty and vulnerability that individuals alone are unable to negotiate. And although a review of social protection in Indonesia highlights the importance of introducing social assistance programmes alongside vocational training in order to improve job prospects for recipients (Widjaja 2012), there is limited acknowledgement of the larger structural barriers to poverty reduction such as a lack of employment opportunities.
Although social protection offers important and appropriate pathways out of poverty for many, the lack of recognition of the structural barriers faced by often the most marginalized and vulnerable people leads to the perpetuation and reinforcement of patterns of disadvantage and inequality. This paper does not argue that social protection policies should address directly such supply-side barriers by extending their remit to include the provision of educational and health services. However, it is evident that there is a need for a more realistic set of expectations from recipients and for more effective coordination with other sectoral stakeholders when designing social protection programmes. III. III.
III. Graduation as the "Be-All and End-All" of Social Protection
As discussed above, there is an increasing emphasis on social protection's productive and promotive aspects. Accordingly, graduation has become an important objective of many programmes. Although the term "graduation" appears to be particularly pervasive in the discourse in Africa, the notion of "promotion" can be found across the board and the term "production" is omnipresent in the Southeast Asian context.
Graduation denotes the process by which people move out of poverty and remain out of poverty once support is discontinued. It is grounded in the asset-based approach, which supports asset accumulation as a long-run strategy for exiting poor and vulnerable living conditions (Moser 2006). It also assumes the existence of a critical asset threshold. Those who find themselves above the critical threshold are deemed able to smooth their assets in the event of shocks (Carter and Barrett 2007). Although the nature and level of such a threshold is subject to debate, it generally includes a combination of household assets, human capital and labour productivity. Hence, a graduation-based approach to social protection assumes that there are many poor people who lack household assets, human capital and productivity; and that social protection can provide the required resources to lift them over the critical threshold and out of poverty (Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux 2011). This "graduation model" was pioneered by BRAC in Bangladesh in the mid-1990s and gained considerable traction elsewhere in the 2000s (Hashemi and Umaira 2011).
The emphasis on graduation is problematic for a number of reasons, especially in reference to the inclusive nature of social protection. First, the graduation approach is exclusionary by nature as only those who are able to work and generate productivity can graduate. Secondly, graduation programmes aim to counteract dependency. This often results in programmes withdrawing support prematurely and creating perverse incentives for people who want to stay in the programme (Devereux 2010).
The public works-type programme is one graduation-based scheme that has grown increasingly popular. Public works programmes offer participants sustainable pathways out of poverty by building and developing their productive capacities in return for cash or food transfers. Asia has been at the forefront of developing and implementing large-scale public works programmes most notably the Indian Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) that was introduced in 2006 (Koehler 2013). Large programmes outside of Asia include the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in Ethiopia and the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) in Rwanda. Public works programmes in Southeast Asia are generally less widespread and cover smaller populations than those implemented in South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa (Subbarao et al. 2012). Nonetheless, several Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, introduced public works programmes in response to the AFC. In addition, Indonesia currently operates public works schemes in rural areas (Subbarao et al. 2012; Cook 2009).
The success of public works programmes in achieving long-term and sustainable graduation is still uncertain. McCord (2010) challenges the impact of short-term programmes and the extent to which they can be expected to lift people out of chronic poverty. Whilst such programmes can work as counter-cyclical mechanisms, helping people to overcome temporary income shocks and smooth consumption, they do not offer a sustainable path out of deep and persistent poverty. This is because the accumulation of assets and productive capacity is too small and links to other helpful services such as micro-finance and micro-enterprise schemes are either too weak or non-existent. Public works programmes offering longer term employment, including the PSNP in Ethiopia and VUP in Rwanda, also experience difficulties in permanently graduating people out of poverty, largely due to operational problems. These include the complexity of establishing realistic graduation criteria and pressure on programme managers to prematurely graduate programme participants (Devereux 2010). Rather than presenting an antidote to dependency, graduation may actually induce it. The loss of all support once a pre-determined threshold is passed, creates an incentive for participants to remain on the programme for as long as possible.
Southeast Asia's emphasis on stimulating productivity and activating the labour force makes concerns around the focus on graduation particularly relevant for the region. In some countries, there is a strong wariness of inducing dependency on welfare and social protection leading to the demonization of welfare-dependants (Chan and Ngok 2011). These concerns are further compounded in the context of rapid urbanization --many internal migrants make the decision to move to urban centres following the absence of viable choices for improving their livelihoods and escaping poverty (Cook and Pincus, this issue). This not only undermines the actual potential for graduation, it may also reinforce and perpetuate patterns of vulnerability and marginalization as migrants fall victim to trafficking, bonded labour or poor and uncertain working conditions.
Finally, it is important to note that graduation undermines principles of inclusivity as it is exclusionary by definition. Only households with able-bodied members who are able to work can take part in public works or other graduation programmes. For social protection to be inclusive, graduation programmes must be complemented by social assistance. The exclusion of those who are most vulnerable is of particular concern in the Southeast Asian context. Contributory social insurance is the most dominant form of social protection in the region while other social assistance schemes are largely underdeveloped (ADB 2011). The social programmes that do exist are small and limited to people living with disabilities and the elderly (Cook and Pincus, this issue). As Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux (2011) point out, a "clear distinction must always be retained in social protection programming between individuals and households who have graduation potential and those who do not (e.g., those who have no labour capacity)" (p. 16).
IV. Conditions as Incentives for Behavioural Change
Conditional cash transfer programmes have gained unprecedented popularity in recent years. The general objective of conditionality in social protection is to improve human capital outcomes and promote resilience by impacting behaviour. The imposition of conditions aims to incentivize poor people to invest in mid- to long-term human capital accumulation instead of making short-term coping decisions (Browne 2013). CCT programmes were developed in Latin America, where they now reach large populations. Whilst Southeast Asia's cash transfer programmes have originally been largely unconditional, CCT programmes are also gaining prominence (Cook 2009). Large-scale programmes can be found in Indonesia, where the Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH) reaches 810,000 households (World Bank 2012a), and in the Philippines, where the Pantawid Pamilya programme reaches approximately 3 million households (Chaudhury, Friedman, and Onishi 2013). Although the move from unconditional to conditional support is mostly a result of theoretical considerations, the lack of financial resources and the need to identify a narrower target group is another important motive (Cook 2009).
Evidence points to the many positive effects of programmes that have conditionality at the core of their design. These include improved schooling, nutrition and health. The most widely known positive examples originate from Latin America but evidence is also available from Asia. In Pakistan, a CCT programme was found to have positive effects on the enrolment of girls in schools (Chaudhury and Parajuli 2006) whilst a study in Cambodia revealed that a conditional scholarship programme helped ensure that middle-school children were more likely to stay in school and less likely to work for pay (CaLP 2012). The Pantawid Pamilya programme in the Philippines has also been successful in improving nutritional outcomes and enrolment rates for children of primary school going age (Chaudhury, Friedman, and Onishi 2013).
Nonetheless, evidence to show that such positive effects are attributable to conditionality is limited. Both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programmes have been found to improve outcomes for children and households at large but little research can ascertain that the imposition of conditions amplifies a programme's positive effects (Adato and Floddinott 2007; de Brauw and Hoddinott 2011). For example, while conditional cash transfers in Malawi were more effective than unconditional cash transfers in keeping adolescent girls in school, there was no difference on school enrolment rates (Baird, McIntosh, and Ozler 2010), early marriage or HIV infection rates (Baird et al. 2012). In South Africa, the unconditional Child Support Grant led to an estimated increase in enrolment rates from 25 to 50 per cent (Sanfilippo, De Neubourg, and Martorano 2012).
The imposition of conditions inevitably undermines the inclusiveness of social protection. First, those most vulnerable and marginalized are most likely to experience difficulties in complying with conditions and therefore face the greatest risks of being excluded from the programme. Indigenous people in remote areas of Mexico, for example, face great barriers in benefiting from the Oportunidades programme given the lack of services in their areas and high opportunity costs for accessing services elsewhere. As a result, many are not able to comply with the conditions, resulting in the expulsion of some of the most marginalized indigenous groups (Ulrichs and Roelen 2012). Similarly, recipients of the Pantawid Pamilya in Lanao del Norte in the Philippines are disproportionately disadvantaged due to supply-side constraints in the health and education sector. Consequently, the programme had little to no impact on participant households in that area (Chaudhury, Friedman, and Onishi 2013). Dadap (2011) suggests that between 20 to 30 per cent of beneficiaries are disqualified as they are unable to comply with conditions due to supply-side constraints.
Secondly, the imposition of conditions as a prerequisite for receiving transfers places a great, and at times unrealistic, responsibility on households. The great lengths that many households have to go to in order to comply with conditions can also lead to unforeseen negative side-effects and perverse incentives. Results from an evaluation of Brazil's Bolsa Alimentacao CCT programme, for example, indicate that children were kept underweight so that they would continue to qualify for benefits (Morris et al. 2004). Similar concerns were raised in an evaluation of a food voucher programme in the Dabaab refugee camp in Kenya. In this instance, the receipt of benefits depended on the number of malnourished children in each household. Although claims that mothers were "starving" their children could not be substantiated, the report does highlight the risk of associating the receipt of benefits with negative indicators (i.e. the requirement of classifying your child as malnourished) (Dunn 2009).
Although not generally considered a CCT-type programme, public work programmes can be considered the ultimate conditional programme as the receipt of cash is tied to work. This work requirement can result in distinct positive and negative effects, particularly with respect to children. The increase in household resources allows many children to go to school, for example, and in many cases this is accompanied by a reduction in hours worked. However, findings are not unequivocally positive. With respect to Ethiopia's PSNP, Hoddinott, Gilligan and Taffesse (2010) find that although the programme decreases the number of hours worked in agricultural work for both boys and girls and in domestic work for boys, school attendance rates for younger girls (aged six to ten) dropped and the number of hours spent on domestic work went up. The same holds for other productivity-enhancing programmes, such as microcredit or microfinance schemes, whereby children are required to take on more domestic chores. Some studies have found that this increase in hours spent on domestic chores occurs at the expense of school enrolment and attendance. The child also has to sacrifice his or her leisure time (Sanfilippo, De Neubourg and Martorano 2012). Similar concerns were raised with respect to the Pantawid Pamilya programme (Dadap 2011). Programme recipients indicated that in addition to attending parent development sessions tied to the "education" condition, they were also compelled to participate in garbage segregation, tree planting and street cleaning activities. This occurred at the expense of their personal activities and, in some cases, at the expense of childcare as there was no other option than to bring their children along. V. V.
V. Discussion and Conclusion
Although social protection was largely absent from the Millennium Declaration, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the general discourse on how to reach the MDGs (Fiszbein, Kanbur and Yemtsov 2013), the concept is likely to feature strongly in the post-2015 development framework. Principles of inclusivity, human rights and social justice lie at the core of the post-2015 development agenda but are at risk of being undermined by the increasing emphasis on the role of social protection in enhancing productivity and stimulating economic growth. This holds particularly true in Southeast Asia. This paper reflected on these concerns by discussing three topical issues: (i) individualistic understandings of poverty; (ii) graduation as the "be-all and end-all" of social protection; and (iii) conditions as incentives for behavioural change. As an antidote to these "Machiavellian" types of social protection, I argued for the need for Inclusive Social Protection by illustrating the negative side-effects of current social protection programmes.
The discussion in this paper exemplifies how individualistic understandings of poverty places unreasonable responsibilities on individuals, expecting them to overcome barriers that they have little to no control over. A failure to recognize such structural causes in the design and implementation of programmes will perpetuate and reinforce patterns of poverty and vulnerability as social protection will be exclusionary in both reach and impact. Graduation as the "be-all and end-all" of social protection raises similar issues in terms of expectations and responsibilities. Programmes focus on the productive capacities of individuals in moving out of poverty but levels of support in current programmes appear insufficient to provide participants with a sustainable path out of poverty. Efforts to prematurely "graduate people" might even induce dependency, making the gradual withdrawal of support a "post-graduation" imperative. A strong focus on graduation also risks excluding large groups of vulnerable "nonproductive" people. Therefore it is essential for graduation to be accompanied by a safety net. Despite the evidence on the positive impact of CCT programmes, incentives for behavioural change may reinforce rather than reduce patterns of inequality and marginalization. Conditionality may lead to the exclusion of those most marginalized as they are not able to meet programme requirements, thereby compounding their levels of vulnerability. These various incentives require considerable scrutiny before being applied in different contexts. Concerns hold particular relevance in the Southeast Asian context given the influence of "productivist" models of social welfare, the emphasis on social insurance schemes and largely underdeveloped schemes of social assistance.
Inclusive Social Protection was formulated against the backdrop of discussions on a post-2015 development framework (Roelen and Devereux 2013; Devereux and Roelen 2014). The concept postulates that social protection should reach everyone who needs it and should be available to everyone in a form most appropriate to them. It also focuses on the need for realistic expectations from individuals and households and the need for strong integration with other structural policies and programmes. It postulates that individualistic understandings of poverty, graduation as an overarching objective of social protection and particularistic incentives for behavioural change undermine the inclusive nature of social protection by excluding those most vulnerable and marginalized and placing unrealistic expectations and unfair responsibilities on households and individuals. This carries a number of practical implications:
First, social protection should not be a temporary or discretionary solution for a "fortunate few" but should represent a structural and rights-based opportunity. A rights-based approach to social protection implies a social contract between government and citizens thus ensuring that citizens can hold governments accountable and challenge the assumptions and expectations of unrealistic or undesirable programmes (Devereux 2013). Making social protection entitlement-based ensures that the most vulnerable and marginalized can claim their rights to the receipt of social protection. It would also make social protection less vulnerable to widespread but largely unsubstantiated claims that it induces dependency.
Secondly, the "evidence base" on social protection needs to be expanded. Research should be pushed beyond its conventional boundaries. Current impact evaluations are mainly occupied with investigating the "black box" of programmes, testing their "theories of change" within the period of the programme cycle using mostly quantitative difference-in-difference techniques. Such a narrow approach is symptomatic of exclusionary social protection; it does not capture those who are left out of the programmes (apart from a carefully selected control group) and does not allow for capturing the unintended side-effects or people's experiences with and perceptions of a programme--both of which may reinforce or undermine a programme's impact (Devereux et al. 2013). To allow for more critical interrogations of assumptions about programme design and implementation and how they support or undermine inclusiveness, evaluations should explore issues outside of a programme's "theories of change", its programme cycle and include the views of recipients, non-recipients and programme administrators. Although participatory research with recipients of social protection and community members is expanding, programme staff and those responsible for running the programme are often overlooked. Their experiences and perceptions are crucial towards formulating creative and feasible human resource solutions for Inclusive Social Protection.
Third, social protection should be seen as embedded within the wider scheme of public policies. Developing programmes in isolation from other policies and without considering the structural causes of poverty and vulnerability results in programmes that disproportionately hold individuals accountable for overcoming barriers that they have little or no influence on. More explicit links to labour, macroeconomic, education and health policies will counteract the current individualistic understandings of poverty and lead to more realistic expectations of both social protection as a whole and those individuals receiving social protection. The acknowledgement that it is just as important for social protection to address structural causes of poverty and vulnerability as it is to lift individual barriers is also likely to reduce stigma for those receiving social protection.
Finally, social protection requires more "out of the box" thinking. The rapidly expanding "evidence base" showcasing the many positive effects of programmes has led to a heavily technocratic approach to social protection. New programmes aspiring to replicate successes elsewhere and many decisions about design, implementation and delivery are based on the assumption that what worked elsewhere will also work in a new context. Social protection should not fall victim to this trap.
Although the issues in this paper are of global concern, they hold particular relevance for Southeast Asia. The region can be considered to be at a tipping point. The space available for scaling-up expenditure on social protection in many countries offers the opportunity to expand coverage to people working outside the formal labour market, developing social assistance programmes and offering a safety net for the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. A number of countries, most notably Indonesia, are already beginning to build comprehensive social protection systems that include social assistance, social insurance and social service based components. The Indonesian experience can offer important lessons for other countries in the region. That said, the social protection landscape in Southeast Asia holds various challenges in moving forward, particularly with reference to safeguarding its inclusive nature. Many countries struggle with extending social protection to those outside of the formal labour force, including informal labourers and those who are not able to work at all. Fears of dependency and an individualistic approach to social protection (i.e., providing support to individuals to aid their own quest to move out of poverty) present a barrier to the coverage of those who will always be in need of support. Such sentiments in conjunction with a relatively high access to services also make conditionality as an incentive for behavioural change an increasingly appealing component of social protection programmes. With 2015 in sight, the Southeast Asian region should move forward with social protection without losing sight of its most vulnerable and marginalised citizens.
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Keetie Roelen is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Brighton, UK and Co-Director of the Centre for Social Protection (CSP).
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|Publication:||Journal of Southeast Asian Economies|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2014|
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