The Government of Bangladesh has a strong interest in reducing poverty as outlined in the Five Year Plans. The Government recognizes that although there has been encouraging reduction of poverty – from 48.9% in 2000 to 31.5% in 2010 – there is still a substantial proportion of the population who are poor. This is due to vulnerabilities and risks the extreme poor face, which places them firmly on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Within a lifetime, the poor may face sudden crises such as health shocks, unemployment, loss of assets, natural disasters, political crises and global recession, which pushes a jolt to their socio-economic situation, pushing them further into the abyss of poverty.
Over the life cycle, people are vulnerable to various kinds of shocks. During early childhood, lack of nutrition has an impact on bodily and cognitive development; there is strong correlation between inter-generational poverty and malnutrition. As children grow, a major challenge they face is attending school. Lack of skills and educational opportunities of adolescents predestines young people to low income earning activities. Women suffer traditional attitudes of gender norms and have weak bargaining power, making them susceptible to life crises. Disability carries a high probability of affecting both household income and expenditure through reduced livelihoods opportunities and increased medical costs. Old age is associated with escalating health costs and lack of income source.
The poverty profile of specified groups is also varied. There are socially excluded people of different race, ethnicity, caste and religion. Dalits, tea garden workers, bede (river gypsies), transgender, homeless, beggars, ethnic minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS persons with disabilities and widowed and distressed women are excluded from the mainstream. The common manifestations of exclusion include unequal access to employment opportunities, health, water, sanitation, information and assets. These groups of extreme poor also have limited access to government led programmes or initiatives; this is because social safety net programmes are somewhat ad hoc in nature, many in number, often duplicative and involve a number of multiple implementation agencies and are not focused on results.
Climate change poses new vulnerabilities to a land already burdened with disasters. Rapid urbanization has also led to new challenges. The urban poor live in slums and low income settlement areas, have poor quality of life and do not have access to housing, basic utility services, education and health services.
Currently, there are 114 social safety net programmes; implemented by 25 line ministries, with budget of 64,117 Crore Taka (FY 2018-19), accounting for 13.81% of the Government budget, at a level of 2.53% of GDP. Some programmes overlap and are considered too small to make any real headway in reducing poverty. Against the backdrop above, the Government of Bangladesh embarked upon the formulation of a comprehensive National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) to coordinate and consolidate the existing safety net programmes to achieve better efficiency and results from the money that is being allocated.
The Government’s social security policy is part of policies and programmes that comprise the Social Development Framework. This forms a wider umbrella incorporating the Government poverty reduction strategy and strategies on education, health, nutrition, population, sanitation and water supply, financial inclusion, women and gender empowerment, social inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities, disaster management and social security. Social security for citizens is mandated by the Article 15 of the Constitution of Bangladesh as “the provision of basic necessities”.
The long term vision of the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) is: “Build an inclusive Social Security System for all deserving Bangladeshis that effectively tackles and prevents poverty and inequality and contributes to broader human development, employment and economic growth.”
Over the next five years, the goal for the National Social Security Strategy is to: “Reform the national Social Security System by ensuring more efficient and effective use of resources, strengthened delivery systems and progress towards a more inclusive form of Social Security that effectively tackles lifecycle risks, prioritises the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.”
During the initial years of NSSS implementation, emphasis will be given to hardcore poor and the most vulnerable sections of the population. To avoid leakages and under-coverage, there will be a shift from the current discretionary approach to a targeted universal approach. An expansion of core schemes for the extreme poor, marginalized and most vulnerable people of the society will focus on mother and child, youth, working age, elderly and people with disabilities. The NSSS will ensure that the most vulnerable women are provided with income security and greater opportunities to engage in the labour market, in particular as they enter into motherhood. Furthermore, the strategy would initiate a social insurance system that would enable people to invest in their own social security, providing protection against the risks of old age, disability, social exclusion, unemployment and maternity.
The schemes would be expanded to include the poor and vulnerable residents of urban areas. The Social Security system would also support an effective disaster response system. For all these changes to occur, the delivery systems for priority transfers would need to be strengthened by establishing advanced management information systems and by capacity development of staff. Other measures that the NSSS would do are to expand awareness of social security programmes amongst eligible potential beneficiaries and introduce a grievance redress mechanism.
During an initial consolidation and coordination phase (2014-2020), coordination in clusters of ministries will take place. The implementing ministries will be responsible for programme design, ensure correct targeting and zero tolerance to pilferage. The Central Monitoring Committee on Social Safety Net Programmes under the Cabinet Division will ensure inter-ministerial coordination of social security programmes. In a Phase 2 period (2021-2025) line ministries will continue programme implementation in coordinating clusters as before, but under a Social Security Agency. A Phase 3 period from 2026 onwards forecasts the establishment of a separate Ministry of Social Security for implementation of all life cycle programmes. It is expected that the full implementation of the NSSS will ultimately satisfy Bangladesh’s aspiration of achieving middle income country status.
Effective management of social security schemes requires high quality management information systems, including a national Single Registry based on a network of independent but interlinked schemes, and establishing a national poverty database. The M&E method and approach will need to be adapted to the implementation capabilities of Bangladesh. An Action Plan with an M&E framework will be developed as a companion document to the NSSS and a task force comprising GED, IMED, and Ministry of Finance will prepare the process and procedure for performance based monitoring of programmes and recommend indicators that can be used for designing any new programme and performance based budgeting.
With a view to strengthening Government-to-Person (G2P) electronic payment systems that promote financial inclusivity, the Ministry of Finance will undertake a comprehensive review of current G2P payment mechanisms to maximize financial inclusion.