Why Social Protection Systems Must Be More Inclusive of People Living In Extreme Poverty

By Rasha Natour | Senior Advocacy Manager, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative

As global poverty rates rise for the first time since 1998, there is an immediate need to prioritize investments in social protection policies and programs that meet the needs of people living in extreme poverty in the near and long term. At the beginning of 2020, an estimated 700 million people lived in extreme poverty around the world. By the end of 2021, the World Bank estimates that more than 150 million people could join them. And as the numbers of those in extreme poverty rise, those who were already experiencing extreme poverty will be pushed even deeper into poverty as the global pandemic exacerbated already high levels of marginalization and vulnerability.

Social protection systems play a critical role in sustainable poverty reduction as well as promoting inclusive economic growth which will be critical as we look towards recovery, building resilience, and ensuring no one is left behind following the global pandemic. Research shows that one percent of GDP invested in social protection systems would reduce poverty rates by 7 percent and increase employment by 0.6 percent with women’s employment increasing more than men. The investment of one percent of GDP also contributes to inclusive economic growth as it can, on average, lead to 1.1 percent GDP growth and 1.8 percent growth in government tax revenues which can support sustainable financing for such systems as well as domestic resource mobilization.

Elizabeth, a recent participant in BRAC Liberia’s Graduation program, poses with her daughter and livestock

Despite the promising impacts of social protection systems on poverty reduction and inclusive growth, the current reality is that the most marginalized people are left out of social protection systems. Two thirds of the world’s people were not covered by comprehensive social protection systems prior to the pandemic, and in countries with social assistance programs, only 21 percent of the poorest people in low-income countries being covered by even a single social protection program. This is a major red flag in the fight against extreme poverty and our global commitment to leaving no one behind.

Global, regional, and national level policies and strategies must prioritize and invest in social protection systems that reach people living in extreme poverty and that address their multidimensional needs and the barriers that perpetuate and deepen the poverty cycle. Social protection systems are a promising solution for poverty reduction for the near and long term and for inclusive economic growth and recovery, but policies and programs must be designed to be inclusive of those experiencing extreme poverty from the very beginning. Without the intentional inclusion of those experiencing the deepest levels of poverty and marginalization in social protection policies and programs, we risk excluding those in greatest need from schemes that provide the opportunity to improve well-being and income security, reduce gender and income inequality, enhance human capital, and increase productivity and the ability to cope with crises and shocks.

BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI) recognizes that we alone cannot meet our global commitment of ending extreme poverty by 2030 if we fail to invest in social protection systems, and if social protection systems continue to fail to be inclusive of people living in extreme poverty. To ensure social protection systems are inclusive of those in greatest need, BRAC UPGI collaborates with governments and government partners to integrate elements of the Graduation approach into existing social protection programs, policies, and strategies so that they reach those living in extreme poverty and adequately addresses their needs. This is done to take advantage of the familiarity of national schemes and help reduce program implementation costs. The Graduation approach has a unique history of being developed in response to a discrepancy in programmatic impact between participants living in poverty and those living in extreme poverty, and we continue to build from our evidence and learning to ensure programs, policies, and systems adequately meet the needs of the extreme poor. We work closely with partners to integrate elements of the four key elements of the Graduation approach, livelihoods promotion, meeting basic needs, financial inclusion, and social empowerment, into social protection programs, policies, and strategies to enable inclusive and sustainable systems. Through our partnerships, we collaborate to ensure that the inclusion of the extreme poor is a focus throughout the process — from ensuring marginalized communities are integrated in social protection systems to the design of interventions based on the unique, multidimensional needs of those living in extreme poverty.

Designers of the Philippines’ DOLE Graduation project integrated a variety of existing national social protection schemes into the program.

Our five year strategic vision builds off our experience working with governments, as well as global and regional partners, to end extreme poverty through the large-scale adoption of the Graduation approach, including through national social protection programs and systems. We are committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring no one is left behind by designing, strengthening, and supporting the development and implementation of social protection policies and programs that have the potential to reduce poverty and promote inclusive growth for those in greatest need.

Breaking the cycle of extreme poverty by providing a pathway out of persistent uncertainty and destitution through our Graduation programs.

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