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Ethiopia is poised to take an important step towards addressing deep-seated vulnerabilities and deprivations. An ambitious Social Protection Policy has been drafted. It presents a milestone in the country’s efforts to tackle persistent inequities, support human capital formation, and promote resilience and inclusive growth going forward. The next step is for the policy to be endorsed by the Council of Ministers.
A society can be measured by how it looks after its most vulnerable members. Ethiopia takes the improvement of existing social protection measures seriously, and the adoption of this policy would present yet another strong commitment in this respect. Investing in social protection anywhere should not be seen only as a recurring cost to society. Rather, it is an investment in a stronger, robust and more inclusive economy: well-designed social protection systems support household incomes and domestic consumption; build human capital; enhance productivity and resilience; and advance social stability through providing equal opportunities for all citizens.
During the food and economic crises of recent years, social protection systems proved value in many countries. Studies suggest that where social protection schemes were already up-and-running when these crises hit, they helped poor people cope better and recover faster.
In some cases this worked by enabling families to continue to pay for food, education, health, and other costs, helping to stimulate local economies in the process.In other cases, where communities organized to look after the vulnerable elderly or sick, it helped free-up more productive members’ time so that they could earn a living.
Many of the benefits of social protection schemes are long-lasting. Providing child nutrition, for example, encourages school attendance and completion, and will deliver excellent returns on the investment for the economy in future years. Girls’ education is of particular importance: those who are able to stay longer in education also likely to be able to delay the age of marriage and child birth and go on to produce healthier children.
The National Social Protection Policy in Ethiopia has been at least three years in the making. In 2010, Ethiopia signed on to the Africa Union Social Policy Development Framework in which it was agreed by Member States that national development plans would develop explicit policies, strategies, and action plans for social protection at the time of their next updates.
In response, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs set-up a National Social Protection Platform under the co-chair of two state ministers.
Over the subsequent 18 months, a series of consultations and drafting sessions took place, leading to the production of working papers. There was extensive engagement of federal and regional governments and civil society, with a national validation workshop hosted by the two state ministers in November 2012. The output was the final draft of the National Social Protection Policy which has now been submitted to the Council of Ministers and is awaiting endorsement.
The core rationale for the development of the new policy was an agreement in Government that the existing ‘developmental social welfare policy’ was not optimal. It specified that communities were responsible for their own social protection, with regional and federal governments limited to paying the salaries of social welfare employees. In today’s complex realities, there is an important role for the state to actively help communities,in particular the poorest and most vulnerable within communities, through social protection support conceived of holistically. Since the Ethiopian economy has grown considerably, and with it the Government’s ability to collect taxes, it was agreed the time was right to consider ways in which some of the revenue could be used to support the very vulnerable.
The policy defines social protection as being a set of ‘formal and informal interventions that aim to reduce social and economic risks, vulnerabilities and deprivations for all people and facilitates equitable growth’. It covers five areas: social safety nets; livelihood and employment schemes; social insurance; tackling inequalities in access to basic services; and addressing violence and abuse and providing legal protection and support for vulnerable populations. It stresses that social protection actions will focus on vulnerable individuals and groups, including people with disabilities, child-and elderly-headed households, and those who are labour-constrained.
As is the case with any policy, once it is endorsed, much hard work will lie ahead in putting it into practice, with national and regional action plans, and securing the financial footing to do so.
To implement the general framework provided through the policy, the National Social Protection Platform has started the preparation of a detailed strategy, expected to be finalized in the coming months. Getting this right will be critical to translate the ambitions of the policy into results which matter for people right across the country.
The financing question is also important. Ethiopia already has a mature range of social protection interventions and actions that have evolved more or less independently of each other. These include, for instance, the productive safety net and health extension worker programmes; efforts to expand the scope of social and health insurance; and urban housing and grain subsidies. They include social cash transfer pilots, like those the UN is supporting in Tigray, and will soon be supporting in SNNPR and Oromia. They include community care coalitions, which demonstrate the important role communities themselves are playing in assisting the most vulnerable. They also include humanitarian interventions, which are de facto part of social protection efforts.
While Ethiopian taxpayers already pay for social protection interventions, the Government is also dependent on resources from other partners. As the economy grows, and to ensure sustainability, it is important for Ethiopia to get a clear understanding of the overall costs of implementing the social protection programmes and to develop an elaborate action plan for assuming more of the cost burden going forward.
A number of UN agencies, development partners, and NGOs have been supporting the Government in developing its social protection policy and strategy.
The United Nations Country Team in Ethiopia stands ready to continue its support to help the Government build strong social protection programmes that will tackle poverty and vulnerabilities, and contribute to Ethiopia’s growth and development. We look forward to helping turn this ambitious policy into reality in each region of Ethiopia and to improve further the quality of lives across the country.