Social safety nets expanding in developing countries

10 Jul 2015
Financial Nigeria


In Africa alone, the number of countries setting up social safety net programmes has doubled over the past three years.

Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President

Developing countries are investing in social safety nets to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions of poor and vulnerable people. This is according to a newly-released World Bank Group report, “The State of Social Safety Nets 2015.” However, the report states that about 773 million people (or 55 percent of the world’s poor) with acute needs still lack safety net coverage. It went on to urge that countries must take action to close this coverage gap.

More than 1.9 billion people in 136 low- and middle-income countries are now on beneficiary rolls of social safety net programmes. In Africa alone, the number of countries setting up social safety net programmes has doubled over the past three years. Notwithstanding, three quarters of the poorest people in low- and lower-middle income countries, and more than one-third of the poorest people in middle-income countries, lack safety net coverage and remain at risk.

The report is the second in a series of studies that monitor and report on the growth and coverage of social safety nets in the developing world, highlight promising innovations, and review important policy and practical developments in this area. The report could also serve as a tool to monitor progress in achieving goal 1.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all by 2030.

“The World Bank Group and the ILO share a vision of social protection for all, a world where anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President and Guy Ryder, Executive Director, International Labour Organisation, in their joint statement. “The new development agenda that is being defined by the world community – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – provides an unparalleled opportunity for our two institutions to join forces to make universal social protection a reality, for everyone, everywhere.”

These safety-new programmes include cash and in-kind transfers targeted to poor and vulnerable households, with the goal of protecting families from the impact of economic shocks, natural disasters, and other crises; ensuring that children grow up healthy, well-fed, and can stay in school and learn; empowering women and girls; and creating jobs.

According to the report, the combined spending on social safety nets in 120 developing countries amounted to about US$329 billion between 2010 and 2014. Well-designed programmes are cost-effective, costing countries only between 1.5 percent and 1.9 percent of GDP – far less than most government spending on fuel subsidies.
“More countries at all income levels are investing in social safety net programmes because they are transformational. There is strong body of evidence that these programmes ensure poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s Senior Director for Social Protection and Labour.

The world’s five largest social safety net programmes are all in middle-income countries (China, India, South Africa and Ethiopia) and reach over 526 million people. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where most of the global poor live, social safety nets cover just one-tenth and one-fifth of the poorest 20 percent of the population, respectively.

Conditional cash transfer programmes account for over 50 percent of the beneficiaries in social safety net programmes, and are now present in 64 countries. School feeding and fee waivers cover around 600 million people, or almost one-third of safety net beneficiaries. Unconditional cash transfers and conditional cash transfer programmes, including public works, reach 718 million people or 36 percent of global social safety net beneficiaries.

The report also highlights the need to improve the efficiency of social safety net programmes by strengthening countries’ capacity to target, integrate, administer, and evaluate social protection programmes, such as social and beneficiary registries. 

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