As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, social inequalities have become more evident particularly in developing countries were poverty is rampant. Social protection is not only a policy measure that seeks to cushion the effects of poverty and bridge inequality gaps through access to the most basic amenities such as food, water and sanitation, housing, clothing and education among others, it is also a fulfillment of one’s human rights.
Although social protection is often viewed as a consumptive expenditure by some elite sections of society, Governments continue to strive to provide equitable measures that invest in human capital development as a comprehensive strategy to enhance inclusive growth and safeguard livelihoods among the vulnerable and marginalised sections of society. According to the Zambia Living Conditions Monitoring Survey of 2015, 54.4% of Zambians are classified as poor while 40.8% are extremely poor and 13.6% are moderately poor.
These statistics are a major concern and affirm the need for strong social protection programs to cushion the effects of poverty and vulnerability in society, more so in the face of a global pandemic. The Government has responded to the need to alleviate poverty through critical interventions that are aimed at tackling poverty by targeting households that are considered to be most at risk of vulnerability. These include, female-headed households, child-headed households, orphans and vulnerable children, the aged and persons living with disabilities.
The Government has remained resolute to addressing existing vulnerabilities, and expanding social protection initiatives through the upscale of eligible beneficiaries of several social protection programs. In the 2021 National Budget, social protection allocation stands at K4.8 Billion representing 4% of Gross Domestic Products (GDP), which is an upward adjustment in comparison to 2020, and 2019 allocations that stood at 2.4% and 2.5% respectively. Government has been implementing various social protection programs, the largest being the Social Cash Transfer with an allocation of K2.3 Billion in 2021. As a way of safeguarding the livelihoods of the most vulnerable, Government increased the targeted beneficiaries of the program to 994,000 from 700,000 in 2021. Other programs include the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) and the Food Security Pack (FSP), just to mention a few.
One of the negative effects of the pandemic being the disruption of livelihoods and heightened poverty, the increase in beneficiary households could not have come at a better time when an emerging “newly poor” sub-group has been necessitated by the pandemic. Now more than ever, social protection programs across the globe have been stretched to respond to the pandemic by cushioning its effects on individuals and households. In May 2020, the Government and its cooperating partners financed the Emergency Social Cash Transfer to respond to the growing levels of poverty resulting from the loss of income and disruption of livelihoods.
In conclusion, we commend Government for attaining its commitment to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Recommendation 202, on the Global Social Protection Floors that set the initial annual cost of a basic social protection package at about 3.7% to 10.6% of GDP of which the 2021 Government spending on social protection falls within this recommendation.