Expanding Social Protection at Times of Austerity

Social Protection is a Human Right and it is considered as the most redistributive public policy by reducing economic inequalities through multiple channels.

The MENA region is considered among the most unequal regions in the world with high rates of public debt and unemployment, associated with an informal economy representing more than half of the country’s economy in some cases. These economic problems were at the root of popular uprisings and protests in 2011, demanding freedom and social justice. Since then, protests have not stopped and there have been multiple social movements in several countries in the region against austerity policies and their effects on their lives.

Social Protection is a Human Right and it is considered as the most redistributive public policy by reducing economic inequalities through multiple channels. For the contributory systems of social protection, we can mention the healthcare insurance and the social security funds. For the non-contributory, we can have cash transfers from national budgets to vulnerable population, such as the disabled, the poor and others. Today, there is a growing demand for Universal Social Protection that “leaves no one behind”.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for Universal Social Protection to ensure access to healthcare for all and to protect everyone from vulnerability, including those who may lose their jobs because of lockdowns and economic recession. The establishment of social protection systems requires effective national strategies and funding. The latter represents a major challenge during these times of economic recession when financial resources are becoming increasingly scarce.

The International Financial Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have historically played an important role in restructuring the economies of these countries through the conditions of access to loans. In the Arab countries, social protection systems have experienced a decline, after the implementation of programs and agreements with the International Monetary Fund. Thus, universal social protection programs in these countries have been replaced by cash transfers targeting the poorest. Many vulnerable people have not been able to benefit from these transfers.

The “Economic Policies for Social Justice in the MENA Region” project of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, through its report, “Uncovered: The role of the IMF in shrinking the social protection, Case Studies from Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco”, analyses the social protection systems in the Middle East and North Africa region and the impact of IMF programs on these systems.

The report addresses three case studies from three non-oil-exporting middle-income countries, namely Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. These countries are located in an area described by the IMF as having low social protection, compared to countries with similar income in the world. The three countries have also engaged in extensive cooperation with IMF experts over the past decade. Through these case studies, particular attention was paid to the replacement of universal social protection by cash transfers and to the insistence of the IMF and the World Bank to replace them with statistical targeting programs for the poorest of the poor. Thus, all cash transfer targeting programs have been evaluated in terms of their impact on poverty and social justice in relation to the specificity of each program in the three countries. Launched during the early pandemic period, this report presents a first regional assessment of the Fund’s recommended policies following the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of social impact on citizens.

The English version of this report is public now and will be followed by Arabic and French versions in the weeks that follow. In order to disseminate this report to a wide audience, four interviews were conducted with the authors of the report and the team of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation to present the main results and will be published in four episodes of the "Yadkhafiya" Podcast in the days following the publication of the report. Also, an article will be published on the "Mechkal" platform presenting real testimonies of people who have been affected by these policies in Tunisia. 

In order to open the debate on the results of the report, the «Economic Policies for Social Justice in the MENA region» project organizes a webinar on Friday 7 October 2022 at 3 p.m (Tunis time) where the authors will present and discuss the results of the report with activists and experts from the region. This comes at significant timing, two days before the start of the annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank and the consultations with civil society. This moment is to be seized for more advocacy with national and international decision-makers in order to defend the rights of citizens in the region at a critical moment both at the regional and international levels.


To read the report : https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/tunesien/19559.pdf

You can register for the webinar through this link: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_koj35GBXRcSgqcJXHj-6Vg

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