The Constitution of Bangladesh in Article 15(d) enshrines the people’s right to secure “the provision of necessities” to be ensured by the Government. Accordingly, the Government of Bangladesh was entrusted with the constitutional obligation to ensure “citizen’s right” to “social security to public assistance in cases of undeserved want arising from unemployment, illness or disablement, or suﬀered by widows or orphans or in old age, or other such cases.” Simultaneously the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25 states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”.
Entrusted with the above constitutional and human rights obligations, the Government formulated the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) in 2015 through a rigorous consultative process, research and analytics, and participation of the country’s development actors. Given the country’s complex and dynamic development milieus people are unevenly exposed to every kind of vulnerability and shock. Simultaneously, the country’s remarkable socio-economic uplift and transformation over the last three decades, the country’s development visions and aspirations have been upscaled which is underpinned by the urgency to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and Bangladesh’s graduation from the “Least Developed Country” status by 2026 and become a developed country by 2041. To realize these, Bangladesh needed an upfront forward-looking strategy for the social security system which is firmly anchored in the medium and long-term strategic goals.
The goal is to develop a system that is suitable for a progressive middle-income country with social and economic justice, and which facilitates the realization of the constitutionally guaranteed right to social security, as well as in a range of international conventions agreed by Bangladesh the long-term vision for social security is to: “Build an inclusive Social Security System (SSS) for all deserving Bangladeshis that eﬀectively tackles and prevents poverty and inequality and contributes to broader human development, employment and economic growth”. In the long-term, the objective “is to move towards building a Social Security System that is available to all the people of Bangladesh who are in need of support, providing them with a guaranteed minimum income, but also a comprehensive safety net for those who suﬀer shocks and crises that may push them into poverty”. The operational goals of the NSSS during its five-year tenure was to “Reform the national Social Security System (NSSS) 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, prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable members of society”.
The conceptual framework guiding the formulation of the NSSS was to “(i) build on our achievements thus far; (ii) priorities systemic coherence and policy visibility; (iii) pursue incremental but systematic improvements in program performance; (iv) continue a responsive strategy of innovations and experimentation that addresses challenges as they emerge; and (v) ensure that an active understanding of poverty and vulnerability dynamics strengthens program initiatives”. The NSSS emphasized a set of operational goals to realize its vision and address multifaceted challenges and vulnerabilities to be addressed by implementing the NSSS. The strategies are:
- Over the next five years a shift from the current discretionary to a targeted universal approach to be accomplished .
- Expanding coverage of core schemes for the extreme/hard-core poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable people of the society, focusing on mother and child, youth, working-age, the elderly, and people with disabilities. A basic objective for the next five years would be to support the elimination of hard-core/extreme poverty as much as scaling up of the ‘graduation’ programs that oﬀer real and direct income-earning opportunities and formal and informal work to the poorest, alongside complementary activities that provide poor people with a means to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.
- Ensuring that the most vulnerable women are provided with income security and greater opportunities to engage in the labor market, as they enter
- Initiating a social insurance system that enables people to invest in their social security, protecting against the risks of old age, disability, social exclusion, unemployment, and
- Expanding coverage of social security schemes to include the poor and vulnerable residents of urban areas (Health, Nutrition, and Education) and the socially excluded
- Ensuring that the social security system supports an eﬀective disaster response
- Strengthening the delivery systems for priority transfers by establishing advanced management information systems and trained professional staﬀ.
- Expanding the awareness of the social security programs for the beneficiaries and motivating potential
While the NSSS provides the strategic guidance to realize its long-term vision and operational guidelines to reform the country’s social security system, they are implemented through the Government’s various ministries/divisions/agencies, which are guided by corresponding sectoral policies. They predominantly fall within the realm of social policies, as they are entrusted with the provision of public goods.
Notwithstanding varied dimensions and definitions of social policies in development discourse, social policies are primarily public policies intended for the provision and delivery of public goods in the presence of diverse market and nonmarket failures (e.g., institutional, structural, political, climate change, and so on. UNDESA, 2019). Governments implement social policy to monitor and strengthen market institutions and social structures. Social policy is often defined as social services such as education, health, employment, and social security. However, social policy is also about redistribution, protection, and social justice. Social policy is about bringing people into the center of policymaking, not by providing residual welfare, but by mainstreaming their needs and voice across sectors, generating stability and social cohesion.
Governments utilize social policy pragmatically to ensure the political support of individuals and to foster beneficial economic outcomes through boosting human capital and sustainable jobs. Social policies can also generate a virtuous circle between human and economic development, which will benefit everyone in the long run by increasing domestic demand and establishing stable, cohesive societies.
The complementarity between the NSSS and the social policies stems from the fact that to realize the NSSS strategic vision and reform agenda, it is vital to have consistency in the social policies of the NSSS. In turn, the social policies and the NSSS need to be strongly aligned with the country’s medium- and long-term strategic visions and operational road map which in Bangladesh's context are the Vision 2041, Delta Plan 2100, and the five-year plans. In the current context, the 7th and 8th five-year plans are the most pertinent. Consequently, probing into the consistency nexus warrants systematically analyzing whether the NSSS has a strong government buy-in reflected by the endorsement of the Vision 2041 and 7th and 8th five-year plans. Simultaneously, the social/public policies also need to be fully aligned with the vision strategies and the above five-year plans. The joint alignment of the NSSS and social policies with the vision strategies and five-year plans constitutes the fundamental pillar to have the consistency of the social policies with the NSSS.
Systematic analysis on examining the consistency of social policies with the NSSS rests on strong merits and multiple rationales. In addition to rich analytical value, it has strong practical utility, especially to realize an inclusive and dynamic social security system consistent with the country’s development visions and aspirations, namely transforming Bangladesh with the long-cherished goal of building “Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal)”.
In contrast to strong rationale, there is a staggering vacuum on the consistency nexus, reflected through a critical gap in systematic analysis and quality knowledge exercise on the subject within an appropriate analytical framework. This could be partly particularly attributable to the multi-faceted complexities of the subject together with acute data deficits and nonavailability. The development literature also does not provide much help.
Given the above context, the paper seeks to analyze and assess the consistency of the NSSS with the social policies, such as education, health, employment, food, water and sanitation, social and financial inclusion, disaster response, and so on. Despite the need for analysing the nexus with all social policies, the study prioritizes key social policies determined by some criteria discussed in the next section. Because of credible data deficits on domestic and global fronts, the study mainly rests on standard qualitative research techniques, especially rigorous desk research. Nevertheless, this constitutes the prime caveat of the study, which needs to be addressed by the country’s development practitioners.
Section II outlines the analytical framework. Section III explores whether the NSSS has strong Government buy-in reflected through the vision strategies and five-year plans. Section IV explores the consistency of social policies with the NSSS based on appropriate criteria. The concluding section summarizes the summary finding and a brief way forward.