Only 1 out of 10 poor Africans enjoy social protection

One of the cardinal points of the campaign of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was to provide a social safety net for the country’s poor people. He promised to create a Social Welfare Program of at least N5000 that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens of Nigeria and provide allowances to the discharged but unemployed Youth Corps members for 12 months. And Nigeria isn’t the only one- a growing number of developing countries are investing in social safety nets to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions of poor and vulnerable people, according to the World Bank. But only 55 percent of the world’s poor are covered.

In Africa alone, the number of countries setting up social safety net programs has doubled over the past three years. But three quarters of the poorest people in low- and lower-middle income countries, and more than one-third of the poorest people in middle-income countries lack safety net coverage and remain at risk.

“More countries at all income levels are investing in social safety net programs because they are transformational. There is strong body of evidence that these programs ensure poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s Senior Director for Social Protection and Labour.


According to The State of Social Safety Nets 2015, 120 developing countries spent about $329 billion on social safety nets between 2010 and 2014. The cost is far less than what most governments spend on subsidising fuel prices.

While social safety nets have proven effective in improving the living conditions of beneficiaries, a huge coverage gap still exists. Although Ethiopia and South Africa have two of the world’s five largest social safety net programs, in Sub-Saharan Africa generally, where a large percentage of the global poor live, social safety nets cover just one-tenth of the poorest of the population.

Once the new Buhari-led administration — which has been criticized as sluggish — can get its act together, Nigeria’s will increase safety net coverage in Africa and will be able to reduce the number of poor people in the country. More so, it is proposing a conditional cash transfer model, which the World Bank recommends as the best targeted safety net program. This is because it devotes as much as 50 percent of benefits to the poorest 20 percent of the population. Social pensions and unconditional cash transfers are not as effective as they are less targeted to the poor.

The report highlights that safety net programs help reduce the poverty headcount rate by 8 percent and the poverty gap (how far the poor are from the poverty line) by 15 percent on average of the poverty gap without safety nets.

“Going forward, more can be done to close the coverage gap and reach the world’s poorest by improving the effectiveness of these programs underpinned by enhanced targeting, improved policy coherence, better administrative integration, and application of technologies,” Banerji said.

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