Two key ingredients for a stronger safety net

14 October 2014

Source: Today (Singapore)
Source type: Newspaper
Published on: 30 Nov 1999

BRUSSELS - Greater commitment from governments and more involvement from the public are needed if social safety nets are to be implemented and enhanced for those living in poverty in Asia.

That was the call at a forum in Brussels this week as political leaders gathered in the Belgian city for the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem).

The issue of social protection at the 8th Asia-Europe People's Forum, which involved civil society groups and non-governmental organisations, is a new addition to the sidelines of the biennial Asem Summit.

But some forum panellists felt that debate on these social policies has already been growing across Asia, arising from wider accessibility to information. And Mr Sandeep Chachra of anti-poverty agency ActionAid India urged for social protection to be seen as a basic human right, to spur progress in the fight against poverty.

Social protection refers to a set of benefits, such as medical care or financial assistance for the needy, which can be provided by the state or through partners in civil society and the private sector.

Malaysian Member of Parliament Tian Chua felt that social intervention would be more effective if citizens play an active role and also hold governments to account on public spending.

But rather than putting affordability as the key focus, which he worries may result in the benefits of poverty reduction being overlooked, the goal is to look out for groups that may be excluded from the safety net.

EuropeAid Cooperation Office director Francesca Mosca also believes that with the changing needs of society, proposals and partnerships from NGOs and non-state actors are called for.

In Asia, the challenge is to ensure that programmes reach rural communities and informal economies, she said, although affordability is a challenge as well.

She pledged the continued support of the European Commission, and said: "Apart from social cohesion ... (and) reducing inequality, the recent economic crisis has shown how social protection acts as a ... shock absorber."

Panellists agreed on the benefits of social protection in propelling economic growth through the development of human capital and providing equality for people. And they felt the main responsbility still lies with the state.

Within the Association of South East Asian Nations, a commitment to social protection was made in May, said Mr Rafendi Djamin, the Indonesian representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

And it is essential for member states to carry out their action plans, he stressed.