IPR Policy Brief - Social protection policies in the Middle East and North African region (MENA): new priorities, new debates

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Abstract

Governments and international development agencies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are taking a greater interest in issues of social welfare and social protection. The turbulent events of the “Arab spring” have only served to heighten the need for this. Yet, there is little clarity as to what social protection might mean or how it might be organised in a region which has, so far, not developed a clear political rationale for equality and social rights.

This policy brief presents research undertaken by Dr Rana Jawad (University of Bath) which began in 2000 into the social welfare systems in the MENA region. It offers a broad mapping of the institutional structures that underpin social policy there. In addition to long-standing programmes of universal food and fuel subsidies, the research highlights the complex interplay of informal social assistance for vulnerable groups who cannot work and employment-based welfare provision which gives preference to male and public sector workers. In consequence, welfare systems in the region primarily address the symptoms rather than the causes of poverty.

The current policy move in MENA is towards unconditional cash transfers for the poor. However, this offers only a limited solution to the social issues facing the region. The emerging social protection discourse, led by various international development agencies (including, the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Development Programme), must avoid becoming a catch-all umbrella term for targeted social assistance programmes which are more focused on short term consumption smoothing. It is argued that there is an urgent need to develop comprehensive and integrated social policies which promote social cohesion and equality.

A number of recommendations are made for the development of new social policies in the region, and the role civil and religious activism can potentially play.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Bath
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013

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Middle East
social assistance
social welfare
equality
welfare
ILO
social rights
Social Policy
North Africa
East Africa
social cohesion
social issue
World Bank
subsidy
UNO
public sector
poverty
food
worker
cause

Cite this

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abstract = "Governments and international development agencies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are taking a greater interest in issues of social welfare and social protection. The turbulent events of the “Arab spring” have only served to heighten the need for this. Yet, there is little clarity as to what social protection might mean or how it might be organised in a region which has, so far, not developed a clear political rationale for equality and social rights.This policy brief presents research undertaken by Dr Rana Jawad (University of Bath) which began in 2000 into the social welfare systems in the MENA region. It offers a broad mapping of the institutional structures that underpin social policy there. In addition to long-standing programmes of universal food and fuel subsidies, the research highlights the complex interplay of informal social assistance for vulnerable groups who cannot work and employment-based welfare provision which gives preference to male and public sector workers. In consequence, welfare systems in the region primarily address the symptoms rather than the causes of poverty.The current policy move in MENA is towards unconditional cash transfers for the poor. However, this offers only a limited solution to the social issues facing the region. The emerging social protection discourse, led by various international development agencies (including, the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Development Programme), must avoid becoming a catch-all umbrella term for targeted social assistance programmes which are more focused on short term consumption smoothing. It is argued that there is an urgent need to develop comprehensive and integrated social policies which promote social cohesion and equality.A number of recommendations are made for the development of new social policies in the region, and the role civil and religious activism can potentially play.",
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