Social Protection in Pakistan Challenges and Opportunities
Author: Muhammad Naeem Akram (Research Associate)
Introduction: Social protection is an essential strategy for promoting inclusive and sustainable development, especially in developing countries like Pakistan, where poverty, inequality, and vulnerability are prevalent. Social protection refers to policies and programs that aim to prevent individuals and households from falling into poverty, vulnerability, and exclusion. Social protection programs can take many forms, including cash transfers, food assistance, health care, education, and employment services. In recent years, Pakistan has made significant efforts to improve the coverage and effectiveness of social protection programs. However, the country still faces many challenges in this area.
State of Social Protection in Pakistan: Social protection in Pakistan is a complex and multi-faceted issue that involves various stakeholders, including the government, civil society, private sector, and international organizationsPakistan is a country with a high level of poverty, inequality, and vulnerability, and social protection has been recognized as a key strategy to address these issues. In recent years, the government of Pakistan has made efforts to improve the coverage and effectiveness of social protection programs.
One of the main social protection programs in Pakistan is the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). BISP is a cash transfer program that provides financial assistance to poor and vulnerable households across the country. The program targets women as the primary beneficiaries and aims to enhance their socio-economic status and empowerment. The program has been successful in reducing poverty, improving food security, and increasing school enrollment rates. . The state of social protection in Pakistan can be assessed based on several indicators, including coverage, financing, targeting, and impact.
In addition to BISP, Pakistan also has other social protection programs, including the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program, the Waseela-e-Taleem Program, and the Waseela-e-Rozgar Program. The Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and provides emergency cash transfers to vulnerable households affected by the pandemic. The Waseela-e-Taleem Program is an education conditional cash transfer program that incentivizes families to send their children to school, while the Waseela-e-Rozgar Program is a job placement program for unemployed youth.
Coverage: One of the main challenges of social protection in Pakistan is limited coverage. According to the latest data, only a small proportion of the population has access to social protection programs. For example, the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), which is the largest cash transfer program in Pakistan, covers only about 4 million households out of a total of 40 million households in the country. This means that the majority of the population is still excluded from social protection programs. There is a need to expand the coverage of social protection programs to reach more vulnerable households.
Financing: Another challenge of social protection in Pakistan is inadequate financing. Social protection programs require significant financial resources to be sustainable and effective. However, the government’s spending on social protection is still relatively low compared to other countries. For example, Pakistan’s spending on social protection is only about 0.5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is much lower than the average spending of other South Asian countries. This low level of financing has resulted in limited coverage and inadequate benefits of social protection programs. There is a need to increase the financing of social protection programs to ensure their effectiveness and sustainability.
Targeting: Targeting is another critical issue in social protection in Pakistan. Targeting refers to the process of identifying and selecting the most vulnerable households to receive social protection benefits. However, targeting mechanisms in Pakistan are not always accurate and efficient. Many social protection programs are not well-targeted and end up benefiting non-poor households. This results in the exclusion of some of the most vulnerable populations who are in most need of social protection. There is a need to improve the targeting mechanisms of social protection programs to ensure that they reach the most vulnerable populations.
Impact: Despite the challenges, social protection programs in Pakistan have shown some positive impacts on poverty reduction, food security, and education. For example, the BISP has been successful in reducing poverty, improving food security, and increasing school enrollment rates. The Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program, which was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, provided emergency cash transfers to vulnerable households affected by the pandemic. These programs have helped to mitigate the impact of poverty and vulnerability on the most vulnerable households.
Opportunities for Improvement: There are many opportunities for improving social protection in Pakistan. The following are some of the key areas where improvement is needed:
Expanding Coverage: There is a need to expand the coverage of social protection programs to reach more vulnerable households. This can be achieved by increasing the budget allocation for social protection and by strengthening the targeting mechanisms.
Increasing Financing: Increasing the financing of social protection programs is crucial to ensure their effectiveness and sustainability. This can be achieved by mobilizing domestic resources, including taxation and other revenue sources, and by accessing international funding and support.
In conclusion, social protection has an important role to play in reducing poverty, inequality, and vulnerability in Pakistan. While there have been some positive developments in recent years, more needs to be done to ensure that social protection programs are effective, sustainable, and reach those who need them the most. The government of Pakistan and other stakeholders should continue to work towards improving the coverage, financing, and targeting mechanisms of social protection programs to promote inclusive and sustainable development