Solution Cluster 1.1.4

Leverage social protection for poverty reduction, food security, and nutrition

Strengthen existing national social protection (SP) systems’ social assistance design and implementation to enhance their impacts on poverty reduction, health, livelihoods, and human capital development by linking to and improving food systems’ performance, inclusiveness, and resilience. To reach these objectives, SP needs to deliberately contribute at-scale to the availability, access, and consumption of sustainably produced, healthy, and nutritious foods and the uptake of quality essential services to meet food and nutritional needs across the lifecycle. SP systems architecture needs to be strengthened by improving elements within five essential building blocks – coverage, adequacy, comprehensiveness, quality, and responsiveness – to complement government efforts to progressively realise human rights to food and social security.

About this Solution Cluster

In recent years, the scale of SP has significantly expanded, contributing to reduced poverty, risk, and vulnerability. Virtually every country now has at least one tax-financed SP programme.   Moreover, SP has been a key pillar of the COVID-19 response since early 2020, with a total of 3,333 SP measures in 222 countries or territories. Accounting for nearly US$2.9 trillion reaching over 1.3 billion people, cash transfer programmes (CTPs) were scaled up by an average 249% relative to pre-pandemic levels, reasserting their relevance as a key component of SP systems’ social assistance. However, such assistance is often temporary and short-term, and its coverage and adequacy are far below needs. This experience begs the question if some emergency SP responses should become permanent and what the fiscal, institutional, and programmatic implications would be, considering that countries have committed to implement nationally appropriate SP systems and measures for all, including floors, and achieve substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable by 2030, in line with SDG target 1.3.

A growing body of evidence shows SP’s substantial contribution to drive and sustain investments in human capital, including food security, nutrition, resilience, and economic development, serving as a solid basis to build forward better. Social assistance programmes, through shock-responsive SP systems, are a potent tool to buffer against socio-economic crisis. The close links between poverty, hunger, and malnutrition that cause, perpetuate, and exacerbate deprivation, risk, and vulnerability necessitate deliberate actions to enhance the food security and nutrition (FSN) sensitivity of SP programmes in order to achieve the objectives set by governments to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts in an accelerated and sustainable fashion.

Several countries across Latin America (e.g., Peru, Dominican Republic, Mexico), Asia (e.g., Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia), and Africa (e.g., Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana) have made tremendous progress to deliberately integrate FSN considerations. They have done so by ensuring linkages across the food systems’ chain of production to markets; stimulating demand for nutritious foods; and, by tailoring SP to meet differential needs, scaling-up programmes to achieve substantial reductions in poverty and boost human capital, productivity, and local economic development.

COVERAGE. Actions to expand SP systems’ coverage in both rural and urban areas should be informed by food insecurity and malnutrition in tandem with poverty indicators to prioritise populations that are least able to adequately and consistently meet their essential needs for nutritious foods. SP systems’ ability to identify and reach food-insecure and nutritionally vulnerable people is key, as is integrating key actors across the food value chain, considering their high levels of job informality. SP schemes that promote the progressive achievement of universal nutritious food access can help overcome the mismatch between the supply of and demand for nutritious foods that hinders the performance of food systems. Considering that 55% of the world lacks adequate access to SP, extending coverage to critical groups, including children and women, the chronically ill, the elderly, displaced/undocumented, and informal sector workers, while accounting for the differentiated nature of food insecurity, malnutrition, and poverty to inform effective programme design and implementation, is of utmost importance.

ADEQUACY. Assess and mind the gap—that is, the level of unaffordability of a healthy and nutritious diet—and design the benefit(s) to close as much of the food and nutrition gap as possible by determining the benefit type(s), size, recipients, delivery modality/ies, frequency, and timeliness (e.g., seasonality) so that the programme best meets nutritional needs. Food and nutritional needs vary across the lifecycle, are deepened by often-intersecting inequalities, and should be considered in SP design and delivery. Benefits may be calculated using poverty lines that may not fully reflect the (often higher and changing) costs of healthy diets, leaving an ‘affordability gap’ between what people can buy and what a healthy diet costs, which is often too large to be met with a SP cash transfer alone. 

COMPREHENSIVENESS. Identifying the most appropriate, context-specific linkages or ‘pluses’ to enhance SP’s FSN outcomes in tandem with other sectors is key to maximise SP’s impact on nutrition, through the provision of, and effective access to, quality essential services, fostering intersectoral linkages across health, nutrition, agriculture, and education, amongst others. To ensure that the increased demand for nutritious foods positively influences its supply, linkages to agriculture, food processing, and markets need to be established (for example through provision of vouchers for fresh or fortified foods or encouraging uptake of preventive health and nutrition services). Different SP support programmes and provisions need to be properly bundled and be reliably accessible for people when, where, and as needed. 

QUALITY. Integrating a variety of actors across the food system in the crafting and delivery of SP will ensure that benefits and services meet people’s needs and do no harm (i.e., do not create unintended consequences that hinder reduction of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition). To achieve these outcomes, SP systems require open consultation processes where the representation, voice, and active participation of affected populations is ensured and carefully designed complaints, feedback, and accountability mechanisms that are in line with human rights standards and principles. 

RESPONSIVENESS. Contexts and people’s needs, risks, and vulnerabilities are constantly changing, and SP systems need to adapt and effectively respond to these. They need to be flexible and robust to respond to changes while uninterruptedly protecting people in times of need. Systems should include a regular monitoring and evaluation mechanism that monitors FSN indicators and reviews and utilises results of impact evaluations for SP adaptation (ISPA-FSN, 2020). Specifically, stronger links should be established between food security early warning systems and SP responses

This initiative supports and complements government efforts towards the achievement of various SDGs, in particular target 1.3, in the implementation of ‘nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors.’ It further supports the Universal Social Protection (USP 2030) agenda and is also linked to various other Summit-proposed solutions, including those on decent work and universal food access.

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