Social Welfare: A Core Response to Child Poverty

The Technical Consultation preceding the Global Partners Forum on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS, February, 2006, highlighted the importance of improving outcomes for children through integrated national systems of social welfare which guarantee basic living standards to the most vulnerable.

All children in highly impacted communities are negatively affected by the social and economic impact of HIV and AIDS. Recent evidence suggests that the impact on children is worsening as households and communities become less able to cope with the burdens of care associated with the disease. Current responses to children affected by HIV and AIDS are inadequate. Tackling child poverty and enabling households to meet the needs of children in their care necessitates a coherent policy mix of direct and indirect instruments.

Mexico, Brazil and India are examples of nations that are developing their social welfare systems and enhancing state capacity to deliver social outcomes. Certain countries in Africa are also adapting social policy frameworks and institutions to meet the challenges of poverty and HIV and AIDS.

Successful direct instruments which have demonstrated positive impacts on child poverty and on children affected by HIV and AIDS include the cash grant system of social transfers in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho, including child support grants and non-contributory old age pensions.

Those countries which have moved towards strengthened national capacity in social welfare have adopted strong coherent social policy frameworks and have invested in state capacity to deliver policy and benefits. Direct instruments will assist families affected by HIV and AIDS to support children in their care. Such instruments need to be part of a national response situated within a national social policy framework ensuring best policy coherence for social outcomes for the most vulnerable children.

Mr Stephen Kidd, of DFID's Social Protection Division, called attention to social welfare as being a core human right, specifically quoting from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 26: "for every child the right to benefit from social security" and Article 27: "the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development". These rights have attracted little attention in poor countries, yet they should be a core response to tackling child poverty, especially in the context of AIDS.

Social transfers can improve household food security, increase rates of participation in education and the uptake of health services. A study commissioned by UNICEF in Southern and Eastern Africa found that cash transfers in the form of child care grants and social pensions were effective in helping families support children in their care. The study concluded that transfers had the potential to strengthen the capacities of families and individuals to support children affected by HIV and AIDS; that predictable ongoing support was most effective and that cash payments afforded flexibility in utilisation which allowed recipients to maximise multiplier effects.

Social protection can promote growth by allowing people to take up higher return - but also more risky - economic activities. It is also an investment in people, generating a healthier workforce and gives children the opportunity to break the poverty cycle; especially important in the context of HIV and AIDS. This increases the number of people contributing to the economy, as those receiving transfers are more likely to be in work than non-beneficiaries.

Social welfare should complement other interventions though and should not replace interventions in health, education and tackling HIV and AIDS. Social welfare is essential to improving impact on child poverty outcomes, including in health and education.

Fee waivers, for example, are not sufficient for many of the poorest to access school and health as they face other barriers. Even ARVs are less effective when recipients have poor nutrition. Other interventions can build on the platform provided by social welfare.

National governments should develop a strategic framework for social welfare provision, integrate social welfare and child poverty outcomes into national Poverty Reduction Strategies, revise National OVC Action Plans to incorporate social protection and embed them within national social policy frameworks.

It is essential that governments take forward national planning on social welfare and increase budget allocations. The international community also needs to invest in building coherent institutions to deliver social welfare for the most vulnerable.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS