On May 20th, 2014, Equity for Children, in conjunction with the Observatory on Latin America (OLA) and Development Thought and Policy, hosted a special panel discussion on Social Protection for Children and Families in anticipation of the July 2014 release of the next Human Development Report (HDR) from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The panel participants addressed the importance of protections during early childhood, cash transfer programs and some of the challenges faced by social protection planning.
José Pineda, Senior Researcher at UNDP emphasized the HDR’s focus on the construction of capabilities in the face of structural vulnerabilities. These manifest through discrimination and exclusion which result in overlapping deprivations that are perpetuated from one generation to the next. Timing interventions to occur in early childhood and vulnerable junctures in the life cycle are key in this conceptualization. Mr. Pineda described the phenomena of hysteresis as a key component to social protection programs, where the relatively short period of childhood in an individual’s life has long-lasting and amplified impacts. Both timing of social protection benefits in the early phases of life and prolongation through adolescence will be key themes in the upcoming HDR. Mr. Pineda noted that structural vulnerabilities throughout a lifetime call for a better-integrated response by social protection schemes because they have a magnified effect on challenges and shocks among vulnerable groups of people and especially children.
David Stewart, Chief of the Child Poverty and Social Protection Unit for UNICEF echoed Mr. Pineda’s message that social protections for children are essential and highlighted that children are overrepresented among income-poor populations. Mr. Stewart presented evidence showing that social protection makes a difference in children’s lives. Mr. Stewart’s presentation largely focused on the successes of cash transfer programs as a gold standard for positive measurable outcomes in the areas of education, nutrition and health and child protection.
UNICEF’s approach, Integrated Social Protection Systems, is the organization’s framework for social protection. Progressive realization and the expansion of social protections throughout the world, national ownership, and a move towards integrated systems for a holistic response characterize the approach. (For more on this framework see: http://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/files/Social_Protection_Strategic_Framework_7Mar12_low_res.pdf ).
Félix Sabaté, Associate Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences and Management at Universidad Nacional Arturo Jauretche in Buenos Aires, Argentina discussed the Universal Child Allowance, a cash transfer program implemented in Argentina in 2009. Unlike previous social protection schemes that came from international banks, the Universal Child Allowance, a conditional cash transfer program requiring periodic health controls and school attendance, emanates from the federal government. Because it is implemented by several federal agencies, it achieves a more integrated approach. Provincial and local entities provide the social services. The transfer is 80 USD per child and 250 USD for a child with disabilities monthly. Mr. Sabaté closed the Universal Child Allowance presentation posing a question about whether the transfer should be further institutionalized, following a rights-based approach or whether a ”moving target” approach would help better target the most marginalized children.
Some of the challenges mentioned by panelists include a negative perception of social protection mechanisms generally, in terms of creating dependency on what are viewed as “handouts” and the integral component of proportionate budget allocations to fund such programs on a national level.
In the Q&A portion of the event, participants commented on advocating for fiscal space towards social protection programs, reiterating a two-fold rationale for social protection mechanisms. Primarily, social protections serve an intrinsic purpose of keeping already marginalized communities from further destitution. Secondly, the panelists agreed–evidence-based research has established that early childhood development programs provide a higher return on investment which substantiates the economic cost of prevention rather than services that attempt to address deprivations later in life. Mr. Pineda noted that advocates of social protection should tread lightly in pressing the instrumental, financial return on investment as such figures are tied to labor markets which are often distorted. Mr. Stewart added that utilizing each of the values may prove more convincing according to the audience. In the political sphere, for example, social protection plans tend to be more popular than in the context of finance ministries. In the political realm the ideological basis of human rights may be more viable. In the financing world, on the other hand, utilizing the economic savings such as multiplier effects are likely to have more resonance.
Each of the panelists supported the investment in children in the form of cash transfers to both break the cycle of poverty and simultaneously increase human capital in order to realize a child’s capabilities. There was a strong consensus among the panelists that social protection mechanisms for children are a way to not only ensure human rights but also to address market failures and the data exists to substantiate their impact.
To access Jose Pineda's presentation, please click here.
To access the interview with Jose Pineda, please click here.
To access David Stewart's presentation, please click here.
To access the interview with David Stewart, please click here.
To access Felix Sabate's presentation, please click here.