Written by Isabela Franciscon and Tomás Borges, socialprotection.org.

 

In 2022, after two years of COVID-19-dominated headlines, record inflation rates and climate change-related events took centre stage in the global debate. It comes as no surprise that social protection was often called on to respond to these multifaceted crises. Following this new context, countries have the opportunity to institutionalize new social protection responses while also facing the need to connect social protection to other policy areas.

What were the trending social protection themes of 2022? This post provides some insights, linking selected posts and resources available at socialprotection.org.

2022 socialprotection.org links:

 

Global inflation crisis and new social protection responses

During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments were compelled to innovate in a fast and effective manner. In the Global South, more than a thousand social protection interventions were implemented to tackle COVID-19 impacts since 2020; out of those, 80% were situational (not adapted from pre-existing programmes) (IPC-IG 2021). In addition to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was also a global skyrocketing of prices in energy and food resulting from the Russo-Ukrainian war – as Russia is one of the most important producers of energy and staple crops while Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest wheat producers (Vorwerk et al. 2022; UNICEF 2022b).

The current inflationary context is biting into real wage growth in most regions of the world. For the first time in the twenty-first century, real wage growth has fallen to negative values while, at the same time, the gap between real productivity growth and real wage growth continues to widen. Vulnerable populations in low-income countries were hit the hardest (ILO 2022). To mitigate the negative socioeconomic consequences of global inflation, until September 2022, a total of 609 social protection and related measures were announced or implemented across 158 countries worldwide. Figure 1 details the distribution of responses by type. Compared to the social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now a wider use of subsidies by governments, including fuel, food, fertilizers, and utilities. Excluding North America, in all of the world regions subsidies are the most common response, reaching 47% and 46% in Africa and East Asia and the Pacific, respectively (Gentilini et al. 2022; Andrade 2022).

Figure 1: Share of measures to respond to global inflation by type

Source: based on Gentilini et al. (2022: 4)

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Provision of unconditional cash transfers to the working-age population

The provision of unconditional cash transfers to the working-age population as part of the responses to the COVID-19 and global inflation crisis represents a break from past standards (Sharpe and Gentilini 2022). Historically, governments tend to concentrate social assistance either near-exclusively to the bottom of welfare distributions (or, in other words, the poorest groups) or on categorical schemes targeted at vulnerable groups such as children or the elderly. Hence, the inclusion of the working-age population and informal workers in social assistance schemes – since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and continued as a response to global inflation – is a novel trend, offering a fresh perspective to reflect on social protection (Gentilini 2022). In China, for instance, the Dibao (or Minimum Living Allowance) was expanded horizontally to cover workers unable to commute and those whose income declined due to the COVID-19 crisis. In Argentina, the Ingreso Familiar de Emergencia, also a response to the COVID-19 crisis, consisted of an exceptional cash transfer for households whose members within the working age (18-65) were informal workers (among other criteria) (IPC-IG 2021). In May 2022, in response to the rising prices of cooking oil, the Filipino government announced unconditional cash transfers to poor households and street vendors (Gentilini et al. 2022).

2022 socialprotection.org links:

 

Opportunities for further institutionalizing social protection emergency responses and procedures, and digitalization challenges

Were the most recent COVID-19 and other crisis social protection responses ever institutionalized? While it is still early to fully answer this question, it should be kept in mind that the new social protection responses and procedures developed to mitigate the adverse impacts of the recent shocks provide an opportunity to advance the institutionalization of social protection systems. This includes, for instance, reliable funding schemes, well-established administrative structures, as well as transparent and solid rules, processes, and delivery systems (Devereux et al. 2020). The boost in digitalization, driven by mobility restrictions and the need to keep social distancing, was particularly notable. Often, it contributed to enhance the agility, effectiveness, and efficiency of social protection. On the other hand, digitalization may have also exacerbated imbalances due to digital inclusion-related challenges, leaving behind the most vulnerable groups. Moreover, many government entities did not possess the institutional capabilities to adequately engage with digitalization (Alvarenga et al., 2022; Giest and Samuels 2022).   

As the wave of country COVID-19 social protection responses recede, early signs of operational legacies have been emerging in different countries – often linked to digitalisation – as exemplified in Figure 2. Countries have taken advantage of the innovations sparked by the shock-responsive social protection responses to enhance the routine systems. For instance, in Brazil, the crisis led to a permanent transition from debit cards to digital bank accounts for the beneficiaries of the Auxílio Emergencial (Emergency Assistance) (Gentilini 2022). Togo´s Novissi programme, launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis, led to a digital leap throughout the social protection delivery chain (e.g. outreach, enrolment and payments via mobile phone, and targeting using digital data (satellite imagery and mobile phone records)) (Aiken and Blumenstock 2022). Other examples are online applications in Kosovo, digital registration in Honduras, digital payments in Rwanda and Egypt, improved interoperability of social registries in the Dominican Republic and legislation reformulation in North Macedonia, among others (Gentilini 2022).

Figure 2: Covid-induced innovations in social protection delivery systems

Source: retrieved from Gentilini (2022: 39)

2022 socialprotection.org links:

 

Adaptive and shock-responsive social protection in the context of more frequent and intense climate shocks

Throughout 2022 people around different parts of the world suffered with climate shocks. These are a few examples: extreme heat in European countries (including wildfires), in India and Pakistan (Kirby 2022; Hedgecoe et al. 2022), droughts in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and China (Reality Check and Visual Journalism 2022; Kumar and Ives 2022), floodings in Pakistan and Vietnam (UNICEF 2022a; Reliefweb 2022). Given these circumstances, it is important to ask whether the established social protection systems are working to help build the resilience of vulnerable families and prepare them for the consequences of climate shocks.

While shock-responsive social protection plays an important role during or in the aftermath of shocks – it refers to the system´s capacity to rapidly adapt routine systems to cope with the sudden increase of social protection demand when a shock occurs –, it tends to be insufficient to preserve people´s well-being over time. Hence, it is needed to advance adaptive social protection, which focuses on building vulnerable groups´ resilience by linking social protection to other areas such as climate change adaptation, disaster risk management and humanitarian response (Sharpe and Gentilini 2022; European Commission 2019). In a context of constant crises and mobility in and out of poverty, it is crucial for governments to invest in preparedness, early warning systems, protocols for the scale-up of programmes and setting-up financial instruments that can be quickly activated when an emergency occurs. These should be established according to each country´s risk profile (Sharpe and Gentilini 2022).

2022 socialprotection.org links:

 

2022 socialprotection.org links:

 

Social Protection in the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP 27)

The role of social protection to build resilience and assist vulnerable populations to cope, adapt and recover from shocks was also approached and highlighted in the COP 27, which took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, between 6 to 20 November 2022. Social protection was explicitly mentioned in the Roundtable on Just Transition´s session details document (COP 27 2022a). As background information to the discussion, the document briefly presents the ILO´s Guidelines for a Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All (2015), with practical orientations for governments and social partners on how to formulate, implement and monitor a policy framework for a just transition of the world´s economy to respond to climate change.

In other words, the document entails that responses to climate change ought to be integrated with sustainable social and economic development and meet the specific needs of the populations particularly vulnerable to the adverse socioeconomic consequences of the transition to a climate resilience economic model – based on low-emission technologies, and addressing security of water, food, energy, housing, job, health, and well-being. Therefore, ILO´s guidelines recommend special attention to workers and communities most affected, anticipating skills needs, assessing health and safety risks, and responding also through social protection (Ibid.).

Importantly, social protection within ‘just transition’ is figured in the COP 27’s final document, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan (COP 27 2022b), published on November 20. In its article 29, the document affirms that a just and equitable transition “must be based on nationally defined development priorities and include social protection so as to mitigate potential impacts associated with the transition”. Further, the article highlights “the important role of the instruments related to social solidarity and protection in mitigating the impacts of applied measures”.

2022 socialprotection.org links:

 

References

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Social insurance
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Regions: 
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's