First published in 1948, the International Social Security Review is the principal international quarterly publication in the field of social security.
Articles by leading social security experts present international comparisons and in-depth discussions of topical questions and studies of social security systems in different countries.
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Abstracts (current issue: April-June 2018, Volume 71, Issue 2)
Introducing social protection in the Middle East and North Africa: Prospects for a new social contract?
The introductory article of this special issue looks at the genesis, characteristics and challenges of social protection schemes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It argues that social protection policies in the MENA should be seen as a key ingredient of the social contract that governments offered to their citizens after independence. To compensate for the lack of political participation and accountability, free public health and education systems, generous food, energy and water subsidies, social insurance and assistance schemes and mass public-sector employment were established. This was possible because MENA countries benefitted from substantial windfall profits (from the export of oil, gas and minerals; Suez Canal user fees), as well as from income from remittances from migrant workers and income from politically motivated aid. The decline of income from some of these sources and population growth has led MENA governments to focus more closely their social protection spending on strategically important social groups: typically, the urban upper middle class. As a result, social protection systems in MENA countries currently suffer from severe weaknesses in terms of social fairness, efficiency and sustainability. Although MENA countries still spend a very considerable share of gross domestic product on their social protection schemes, these have only very limited effects on the reduction of poverty, vulnerability and inequality – and some even exhibit perverse “bottom-up” redistributive outcomes. The articles that comprise this special issue selectively spotlight a number of opportunities and challenges for the development of sustainable social protection in the MENA countries.
Can youth activation policies be central to social policies in MENA countries?
Youth unemployment is a major socio-political issue in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). However, active labour market programmes (ALMPs) in support of youth employment remain less prevalent and are generally outside the purview of social policies in the region’s countries. This article addresses this inconsistency. The article provides an overview of such programmes and identifies the challenges to their inclusion as a central part of the region’s social policy mix. Internationally, the article notes that successful models for the integration of ALMPs into social policies have been part of long-term reforms targeting inclusive social security systems. This has not been the case in Arab countries where access to contributory social security systems is limited and where labour markets are characterized by large informal economies and a majority of workers are without social protection. Further contributing factors pertain to limited state budgets and a limited knowledge base about the effectiveness of ALMPs in the region.
Universal social protection in Tunisia: Comparing the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of food and energy subsidies with a proposed universal child allowance programme
This article compares the effectiveness and efficiency of a food and energy subsidy programme, which is currently implemented by the Tunisian government, and a universal child allowance programme that is discussed as an alternative to these subsidies. The empirical analysis is based on microsimulations on the poverty impact and the costs of both programmes based on Tunisian household survey data. Our results suggest that a universal child allowance is approximately twice as efficient (i.e. the cost of lifting one person out of poverty under a universal child allowance is half of the cost of lifting one person out of poverty using subsidies) in reducing poverty than the current food and energy subsidies. The article concludes that efficiency-enhancing social protection reforms are possible based on a universal approach. Such reforms can be achieved without resorting to narrow poverty-targeting as an alternative to the subsidies whose negative side-effects (e.g. non-negligible exclusion errors, incentives to informality and social tensions) and costs (both public and private costs related to intensive data collection to improve targeting) are usually overlooked or underestimated.
What are the effects of cash transfers for refugees in the context of protracted displacement? Findings from Jordan
The current refugee crisis requires new thinking and durable policies which move beyond simply meeting the short-term immediate needs of refugees. In the context of this protracted crisis, humanitarian response has included a focus on cash transfer programming as a way to support Syrian refugees in Jordan to meet their basic needs. While evidence on cash transfers in stable contexts has been well-documented over the last two decades, little is known about the potential effects of cash transfers on populations in protracted displacement. This article examines the economic and social effects of a UNHCR cash transfer programme for Syrian refugees in urban areas in Jordan. We find that almost all beneficiaries used the transfer to pay rent, and that this reduces stress and anxiety among beneficiaries. These effects are important, but depend on the continuation of cash transfer support. For longer-term impacts, assistance for refugees needs to move beyond short-term support and align better with national interventions and a broader enabling policy environment, including refugees’ right to work.
The rocky road to universal health coverage in Egypt: A political economy of health insurance reform from 2005–15
Processes of public policy formation and implementation in the Middle East and North Africa are underexplored. This article presents a case study in public policy reform, focusing on efforts to expand health insurance coverage in Egypt. The account draws on a thematic analysis of peer and non-peer reviewed literature and print media between 2005 and 2015, with a particular focus on the period to 2011. This analysis shows that reform initiatives failed for much of this period because of fundamental disagreements between key actors over the goals, proposals and the political process for change. The success of planned reforms in Egypt may well depend on the extent to which account is taken of the varied agendas and evolving power relations of these actors, especially given the profound political, social and economic challenges the Egyptian health system now faces.
The targeting effectiveness of Egypt’s Food Subsidy Programme: Reaching the poor?
In Egypt, the Food Subsidy Programme (FSP) contributes greatly to social stability, yet there is academic and political pressure to reform the system to prioritize the effective targeting of the poor. This has been particularly so since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and in the light of claims by the government and international organizations that the programme is relatively expensive and ineffective in targeting the poor. Accordingly, the ability to measure the programme’s targeting performance is crucial, not least to assess the targeting outcome of this anti-poverty intervention. Most previous studies of the Egyptian FSP address the challenges of exclusion and inclusion errors exclusively from an econometric approach. However, in this study a mixed approach method is developed to better explain the programme and to explore how its governance structure might play an important role in determining its effectiveness. This method generates both a statistically reliable measure of the magnitude of the targeting performance as well as a greater depth of understanding of the programme’s effectiveness in achieving targeting outcomes. Additionally, understanding the actual targeting mechanism should help policy-makers improve its effectiveness, and ultimately support a comprehensive reform to build an effective social protection system.