A new social protection model in the CIS countries

from social assistance to labour activation

While within social protection debate, considerable attention has been paid to advanced welfare states and increasingly to countries in the Global South, the new independent states of the former Soviet Union have remained relatively neglected, with limited data available about transformations in the social protection system in these countries. The current paper aims to fill a gap in this area by examining the nature of the social protection model in post-Soviet Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and discussing the impact of relevant measures on poverty reduction in these settings.

The study asks the following questions: (i) What policy innovations have occurred in social protection in these countries, and what have been the drivers of such policy change? (ii) How have social protection measures been implemented, and what effects have they had on poverty reduction? (iii) What explains the diverse measures undertaken by respective governments and the outcomes achieved?

Post-communist transition involved the installation of a new welfare and social protection system. The Soviet universalist principle of providing assistance had been largely replaced in favour of means-tested support targeting the most needy groups in Central Asian Republics and more recently in Russia and Belarus. Responsibility for supporting society shifted away from the state to families themselves (Dugarova 2016a). As a result of economic growth in the 2000s and investments in the social sphere, poverty has been decreasing steadily during this period. In recent years, however, due to economic downturn there has been a reversal or slowdown in the poverty reduction trend in the region. To address poverty more effectively, the countries under examination have adopted a new approach to social protection that entails transition from social assistance to the activation of citizens’ labour potential and the development of their economic independence (Dugarova 2016b). This move entails the implementation of active labour market programmes which vary in scope, focus and outcomes across the countries.

While the social protection measures aimed at labour activation have contributed to the improvement of living conditions of many families in these countries, they have been insufficient to eradicate poverty. In fact, a majority of those living below the poverty line in the region are employed (UNICEF 2015), whereas jobs are often low-paid and low-quality with no social security. The paper therefore concludes that increasing productive potential alone is unlikely to lift people out of poverty and a comprehensive set of measures in labour market, education, health and other services are needed.