Social Protection: Reducing Poverty and Inequality in Asia

Feature | 3 July 2013

Social protection is a crucial tool for reducing poverty and inequality as well as accelerating prospects of long-term economic growth, says Sri Wening Handayani, Social Development Specialist at ADB.

How effective are social protection systems in Asia and the Pacific?

In general, the social protection systems operated by governments in the region are not terribly effective outside a few developed countries, such as Japan, Republic of South Korea, and Singapore. They tend to suffer from fragmentation, weak coordination, and poor beneficiary targeting. The good news is that efforts are underway in many countries to address such shortcomings. For example, the latest evaluation of the large conditional cash transfer program in the Philippines shows very promising results. School enrolment of children in poor beneficiary families has risen, and the incidence of severe stunting has declined. On the whole, experience from around the world shows that well-designed and capably implemented social protection programs contribute to poverty reduction.

ADB has embraced inclusive growth as a strategic agenda for improving lives in the region. Further, we see social protection as a key pillar of this strategy since it helps vulnerable populations better manage risks, and develop human capital. For nearly 3 decades, ADB has been providing financing and advice to assist countries in strengthening their social protection systems. In particular, we support: interventions to protect communities and the informal sector through provision of social assistance; labor market programs to ensure productive employment, good working conditions, and improved human capital development; and protection of vulnerable populations from micro and macro-economic shocks through provision of social insurance. Many of the newer ADB-financed social protection projects support skills development for employment.

What makes ADB's Social Protection Index a useful tool?

Because social protection systems in developing Asia and the Pacific tend to be fragmented across agencies, it is has been hard to gain a solid understanding of their reach and impact. Only a few countries in the region have generated high-quality statistics on their social protection programs. ADB's Social Protection Index has pulled together data on central government social protection programs in 35 countries and presents the figures in a variety of ways. The SPI provides policymakers with insights into public expenditures on social protection, the size of benefits and extent of coverage (depth and breadth), and the poverty and gender dimensions. The data are publicly available on ADB's website, as are individual country reports that provide further analysis to assist governments in strengthening their social protection systems.