Implementors of social protection emphasize its relevance in mitigating risks, protecting the vulnerable, and promoting resilience of the citizenry through uncertain and crisis situations. The government’s commitment to social protection can also be gauged on what percentage of its population is covered by these programs.
The ILO World Social Protection Report of 2020-2022 notes that spending on social protection by countries varies significantly. On average, each nation spends 12.9 percent of its gross domestic product on social protection (excluding health); however, high-income countries spend 16.4 percent while low-income countries only 1.1 percent of their GDP on social protection. Lower middle-income countries’ spending average is at 2.5 percent while the higher middle-income countries’ average is 8 percent. The Philippine government spent only 2.7 percent of GDP for social protection last year (DBM, 2021).
Funding has always been an important issue in the politics of social protection and poverty reduction. Social welfare competes with the education and health portfolios in terms of the government’s general appropriation for social services. Of course, these services are complementary, and an optimal mix should be desired. At the same time, the whole range of social services needs to contend with economic services and national defense. This year, education’s share is 28 percent, health, 8.5 percent, defense, 7.9 percent, and economic services 29.3 percent.
The ILO estimates that currently, only 47 percent of the global population is effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit, while 4.1 billion people (53 percent) obtain no income security at all from their national social protection system. It also highlights significant regional inequalities in social protection. Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with 84 percent of people being covered by at least one benefit. The Americas are also above the global average, with 64.3 percent. Asia and the Pacific (44 percent), the Arab States (40 percent), and Africa (17.4 percent) have marked coverage gaps. In this same report, the Philippine coverage is only 36.7 percent.
ADB estimates are higher where the Philippines covers two-thirds of its poor population in terms of its overall social assistance and social safety net programs, its two biggest social protection programs. It is well above the global average and only surpassed by India (95.6 percent), Vietnam (82 percent), Indonesia (79.1 percent), and Georgia (76 percent) in the Asian region.
There is also a long-standing debate between advocates of targeting and universality in terms of the coverage of social protection. Targeting, according to its promoters, is the more efficient alternative, especially for resource-constrained economies. Meanwhile, universal coverage gets support for those who believe that social protection is a basic human right, so everyone must have access to its programs. Multilateral institutions typically favor targeting for developing economies while human rights organizations are biased for universality. Dadap-Cantal et al. (2021) argue that the targeting system has failed to function according to its basic purpose of identifying the poor and providing them social protection in the case of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. This is partly because of the increasingly obsolescent data of Listahanan, the official registry. According to the authors, the system, which is unable to update the data regularly, has covered only about 17 percent of the targeted households in 2020. The government, though, asserts that the program was able to reach 4.2 million poor families in the same year—already about 90 percent of the total poor families in the country. These contrasting contentions and statistics have been an important aspect of the politics of social protection in the economy.
One promising development in terms of the delivery of social protection programs is the potential use of the National ID System in enrolment and payment platforms and in the promotion of financial inclusion among beneficiaries. India’s Aadhaar scheme, a national initiative using biometric information to allocate unique identification numbers to Indian residents, has registered over 1.2 billion people and expanded access to basic identification, improved enrolment in social protection and financial inclusion programs, control leakages, decrease corruption, and address other limitations in India’s social protection architecture. There is much to be learned from this digital ID scheme’s efforts to create a more inclusive social protection system. Nevertheless, there have been some snags in the implementation of the Philippine National ID, as the actual production of the physical ID is very much delayed.
A key aspect of social protection is to know the actual needs and priorities of its target beneficiaries. Thus, the poor and marginalized sectors should have a voice in the design of major government social protection programs. While many marginalized sectors are represented in the National Anti-Poverty Commission, there should also be a specific mechanism or venue for the vulnerable sectors to assist government in the design, prioritization and implementation of social protection programs.
Dr. Fernando T. Aldaba is Professor of Economics and former Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Ateneo de Manila University.