Bangladesh’s expenditure on social protection accounts for less than 1 per cent of its gross domestic product and is the lowest in South and South West Asia, according to a latest global report.
The report titled ‘The Protection We Want: Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific’, jointly produced by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the International Labour Organisation, highlighted the need for well-functioning social protection systems saying that it was central to increasing national resilience against economic shocks.
According to the report, social protection expenditure in Bangladesh was 0.7 per cent of its GDP which was the lowest among countries in South and South West Asia.
Levels of public expenditures on social protection, excluding health, are too low to be effective in many countries in the region, said the report released on Thursday.
The report revealed that despite rapid socioeconomic ascent, most countries in the Asia-Pacific region had weak social protection systems riddled with gaps.
It said that about half of the region’s population had no social protection coverage and only a handful of countries had comprehensive social protection systems with relatively broad coverage.
‘The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of well-designed, implemented and coordinated social protection systems in protecting people throughout their lives and promoting their well-being,’ the report said.
The pandemic has also shown that social protection should be a right for all, rather than a privilege for a few, the report mentioned.
The report identified that the high prevalence of informal employment, which amounted to 70 per cent of the total workers, was one of the key reasons for lower investment in social protection in the region, as most of these workers and their employers remained outside the legal framework of contributory schemes.
The ESCAP estimates indicate that an economic contraction of 5 per cent could increase the Asia-Pacific poverty headcount at the international poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50 per day by approximately 93 and 90 million people respectively.
In a more extreme scenario, an economic contraction of 20 per cent could increase the Asia-Pacific poverty headcount by around 414 million people at the $3.20-per day line and by 381 million people at the $5.50-per day line, it said.
Expanding social protection carries immense benefits at an affordable cost and investment in basic social protection will have an immediate impact on reducing poverty, inequality and purchasing power disparities, the report said.
Initial studies in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka found that the COVID-19 pandemic had reduced average incomes across the whole income distribution and women were being disproportionately impacted by the crisis.
The report identified that reliance on out-of-pocket payments could result in catastrophic health expenditure.
In Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Georgia, Maldives and Tajikistan, more than 1 in 20 households spend more than 25 per cent of their total income on health, it said.
‘The lack of access to affordable health care is leaving individuals without treatment and households vulnerable to falling back into poverty,’ the report said.
According to the report, most poverty-targeted schemes failed to reach the poorest families and poverty-targeted schemes commonly missed half of the intended beneficiaries.
The report also showed that 59.4 per cent of eligible people for selected poverty-targeted social protection programmes remained excluded due to inaccurate targeting.
‘Comprehensive social protection creates the foundation for healthy societies and vibrant economies. The COVID19 pandemic has brought this imperative into sharp focus, by demonstrating the stabilising effect wellfunctioning social protection systems have and how their absence exacerbates inequality and poverty,’ said ESCAP executive secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.
ILO regional director for Asia and the Pacific Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa said that the COVID-19 crisis had exposed the precarious situation of many working women and men and especially those in the informal economy.
There was a clear need for further investment in public social protection systems to avoid the stagnation of social and economic progress made across the region in recent decades, she added.
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