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Australia’s development program

Australia's assistance for social protection

Partnerships for Recovery and social protection

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact is exacerbating people’s vulnerability to poverty and highlighting the need for countries to have robust social protection (social security) systems. More than half a billion people are expected to fall into poverty globally.  It is estimated that extreme poverty rose by 80 million in Asia and Pacific due to COVID-19 in 2021.

The economic and poverty-related impacts of COVID-19 have led to an unprecedented use of social protection systems globally to support affected populations and mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Social protection includes both contributory social insurance and non-contributory social assistance. Non-contributory social assistance programs are typically programs designed to reach vulnerable households – and can take the form of cash transfers, voucher programs, school feeding and cash-for-work initiatives. In some cases, these transfers are linked to education, health and nutrition services and may include behavioral change communication elements, such as financial literacy training or education around hygiene and nutrition for mothers and their babies.

Social protection transfers assist people to meet their basic needs such as nutritious food, obtain transport to access work opportunities and purchase assets to invest in income generating activities. Social protection programs support economic recovery, by helping households to avoid having to sell assets they rely on for their livelihoods or withdrawing children from school when faced with events that lead to a shock to household incomes.

Social protection programs are often focused on women. They can protect women and girls from the effects of the crisis, while challenging underlying gender inequities, for example by giving women greater control of household finances and helping girls to attend school. Social protection programs can be linked with other support services, including to address family violence, which has been shown to be on the rise as the result of COVID-19.

Social protection can also promote stability during periods of economic crisis, helping improve social cohesion and citizen-state relations. Australia’s support in many countries is focused on building the underlying systems for beneficiary identification, payments and complaints handling, to make social protection responses more effective, equitable and evidence-based.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed gaps in many countries’ critical social protection systems. Few countries have effective mechanisms for protecting the near-poor, persons with disability and informal workers and small to medium sized enterprises, whose prosperity and success contribute to economic growth, poverty reduction and social stability. Women and migrants are disproportionately represented in this informal workforce. A number of countries across the region report that unemployment increased by at least 20% in 2021. Many families were forced to cope by eating less, drawing from savings and deferring payments, borrowing money, selling property, or pawning assets.

Having long term, ongoing social protection programs in place is crucial for countries’ human and economic development, both in normal times and during a crisis. Countries with social protection systems already established have been better positioned to rapidly deliver assistance to their citizens in response to COVID-19, to cushion against shocks, protect jobs and provide economic stimulus in response to the pandemic. In our region particularly, having established social protection systems is also important for governments to be able to rapidly respond to natural disaster shocks.

Through Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response, Australia is investing in social protection as a vital part of our health security, stability, and economic response. This has a strong emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women and people with disabilities, and stimulating economies to support recovery from COVID-19.

How we are helping

Australia is providing essential advice and assistance on social protection to countries in our region, to support a return to prosperity and stability and enhance resilience over the long term. We work in partnership with governments in our region to deliver social protection initiatives, strengthen existing systems and support governments in establishing new social protection programs.

In the Pacific, we have provided budget support and advice for economic recovery packages that include social protection measures. In Asia, our investments in timely technical advice are influencing billions of dollars of partner government spending. We are supporting humanitarian organisations and NGOs to deliver social assistance, especially for internally displaced people, refugees, migrants and other excluded groups. This support builds on Australia’s ongoing efforts to improve the coverage and quality of social protection in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia's social protection investments are guided by international and regional evidence, and respond to the context in which they are delivered. Australia’s investments in social protection:

  • Focus on building social protection systems that support the poor and near-poor, so that our investments have the greatest possible impact on poverty reduction, economic resilience and stability.
  • Prioritise gender-responsive and shock-responsive social protection, because social protection systems that integrate gender equality and have the capacity to effectively support citizens in times of shock are the most effective.
  • Enhance partner governments’ ability to plan and implement their own systems, through prioritising partner-led approaches so that governments strengthen the sustainability of their own programs.
  • Support governments to improve the coverage and quality of systems, through contextually-relevant support and technical advice, to ensure social protection systems in our region are impactful, promote economic resilience and provide effective safety nets.
  • Actively contribute to a culture of evidence and learning, to promote good practice approaches with our partner governments, as well as contributing to global social protection evidence through knowledge and lessons from our region.

How we contribute

Australia's investments in social protection focus on supporting partner governments to build and strengthen their social protection systems to deliver reliable, effective safety nets for their citizens. Australia's support involves assisting partner governments to improve the effectiveness and reach of their own spending on social protection programs, contributing to human development and economic growth outcomes.

In Indonesia, through our decade-long partnership on social protection, Australia has supported the construction of, and several updates to, Indonesia's poverty database, which the Government is using to direct social assistance schemes to more than half its population. Australia’s technical support and partnership with the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction also assisted with the design of a large package of emergency social protection measures, in response to COVID-19.

In the Philippines we have helped the Government expand its national conditional cash transfer program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), and progress its ambitious social protection reform agenda. Australia supports multilateral development partners to provide timely, evidence-based policy recommendations which aim to increase the effectiveness, efficiency and inclusiveness of the 4Ps cash transfer program, which reached 4.29 million poor and vulnerable households in 2020.

In Bangladesh, Australia supports BRAC's Targeting the Ultra Poor program which provides extremely poor people with skills and assets to build their own livelihoods. We also work closely the government to improve its systems.

In Pacific Island Countries, we are mobilising a new multi-country, four-year initiative to support Pacific Governments seeking to develop and strengthen national social protection systems. This program responds to the increased interest in social protection for partner Governments in our region, and we will provide advice and support to Pacific Governments as they establish and expand social protection for their citizens and build shock-responsive systems for the longer term.

In Timor-Leste, Australian support was central to the creation of an emergency payment (funded from the Government’s own revenues) which delivered US$200 for almost all households, Timor-Leste's largest ever one-off social protection investment. We continue to support the reform of Timor-Leste’s social protection system to better reach those in need, including the reform of a payment targeting pregnant women and early childhood.

In addition to our work though country programs, we contribute to regional and global knowledge sharing initiatives that build country systems and knowledge.

Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

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