Social Protection to protect and promote nutrition
Reflections from HelpAge International
Submitted by Andrea Vilela (Social Protection Policy Adivser) and Tessa Vorbohle (Food Security and Livelihoods Adviser)
HelpAge International welcomes the focus on social protection as a key thematic issue to play into the preparations for the ICN 2. We welcome the shift to a more sophisticated understanding of the potential for social protection to enhance nutritional outcomes and recognise that there is rightfully a new emphasis on enhancing nutritional outcomes as social protection gains prominence as a preferred mechanism for delivering Aid and responding to crisis.
However, we are concerned that the concept note in its current state neglects the question that lies at the very core of the discussion: What concept of social protection do we apply? This bears the risk of falling back on dated conceptions of social protection that are instrumentalist and temporary in nature.
Despite recent high level support for rights based definitions of social protection as recognised by the G20, EU, Sociall Protection Inter-Agency Cooperation Board, and the Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors approved by 184 Governments at the 101st International Labour Committee in 2012, social protection still often tends to be interpreted in instrumentalist, short term and programmatic ways, entrenched in a safety net approach. Social protection floors are nationally defined systems that guarantee access to basic services and income security across the lifecourse.
The ICN 2 has a crucial role to play in highlighting the need for comprehensive rights based approaches to social protection such as national Social Protection Floors to protect and promote nutrition.
What are the main issues for policy-makers to consider in the design, formulation and implementation of nutrition-enhancing social protection measures?
A key consideration is ‘coverage’ and achieving political will for significant investments necessary to achieve comprehensive social protection. Policy makers should consider the importance of achieving a social protection for all that provides access to basic services and basic income guarantees across the life-course. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food states
“While the benefits of social protection are well acknowledged, they are too often unavailable. According to estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO), seventy-five to eighty per cent of the world population does not have access to “comprehensive social security” protection to shield them from the effects of unemployment, illness or disability – not to mention crop failure or soaring food costs.” http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Food/20121009_GFSP_en.pdf
A key issue for policy makers is to clarify the conceptual basis of social protection and close the space for ambiguity regarding objectives. The objectives of social protection should not be over-emphasise, or be reduced to individual outcomes. The emphasis is on achieving coverage and ensuring no-one is left behind. It is important not to overemphasise technical design options and programmatic responses at the expense of establishing comprehensive social protection floors.
For example the PSNP in Ethiopia is widely cited as a successful social protection programme and it is utilised as a modality for the National Nutrition Strategy which aims to reduce stunting by 4% in 2 years. However, despite being one of the largest social protection projects in Africa, the current coverage does not address vulnerable households in other locations, including those vulnerable to sudden onset shocks. UNICEF have also highlighted the need for social protection to cover urban areas where urban poverty is increasing. There have also been calls about the “need to move beyond a crisis agenda towards a longer-term solution to malnutrition”.
National social protection floors (rather than separate stand alone programmes) provide a framework through which the broad range of factors that impact on food and nutrition security can be addressed in a coherent way as well as meeting the twin track objective referred to in the concept note.
Another and partly related aspect is that of protecting and improving nutrition “throughout the lifecycle” as mentioned in the concept note. The right to adequate food applies to people of all ages. Yet, in reality, people in old age are invisible in nutrition statistics and are by and large excluded from programmes that address acute malnutrition. Moreover, regular safety net programmes seldom cater for the specific nutritional needs of people in old age. Adopting a rights based social protection approach to protect and promote nutrition requires policy makers to address this dimension of inequality
What are the key institutional and governance challenges to the delivery of cross-sectoral and comprehensive social protection policies that protect and promote nutrition of the most vulnerable?
The foremost governance challenge facing the expansion of social protection for all is an absence of political commitment and prioritisation of social protection by Governments. This is in part responded to through the international mechanism for social protection articulated by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in their call for a Global Fund for Social Protection. This is conceived of in recognition of the broad and high level international support for rights based social protection and the need to support low income countries who face administrative capacity constraints and highly instable export revenue dependency. There is more to be said on means of implementation and potential additional benefits of such an international social protection mechanism.
At the national level, HelpAge acknowledges and supports the observations of other submissions to this online consultation that emphasise institutional challenges and call for cross-sectorial dialogue on social protection policy and practice.
In your experience, what are key best-practices and lessons-learned in fostering cross-sectoral linkages to enhance malnutrition and poverty reduction through social protection?
There are promising experiences in many countries where inter-ministerial committees have driven the development of social protection policies to meet a range of interests (including nutrion security). These seem to work best where there commitment and leadership from Planning and Finance Ministries as well as utilise broad consultation mechanisms to ensure the inclusion of civil society voices and expertise.
With all this in mind, it is important not to overstate the role of social protection in achieving the nutritional outcomes sought at the national level. It plays a distinctive role in supporting increased consumption and supporting small holder farmers, but in reality targeted nutritional strategies are best build on top of a social protection floor. This might include complimentary programming but don’t let pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good.
By this we mean, a focus on technical innovation and additional bolt-on’s can distract from the fact that coverage and investment in basic protection is a first step. Basic social protection is a blunt instrument to address many objectives – poverty elimination, redistribution, state building through governance outcomes and social dialogue – HelpAge therefore, in line with the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, encourages that the ICN 2 strongly endorses and utilises the language of the social protection floor as a basis for discussion and clarity on the subject.
“Social protection systems have the potential to contribute to the realization of basic human rights, such as the rights to food, education and health, and to combat systemic inequality. Building from this, social protection provides States a means to support marginalized groups, tackle the immediate problems of child hunger and malnutrition,”
 Taylor 2012
Links and resources:
Concept note on social protection and nutrition
Social Protection for Food Security HLPE Report
Improving Nutrition through multisectoral Approaches – Social Protection
Talking points on social protection and nutrition, Centre for Social Protection
Post-2015 Development Agenda - Joint Chairs and co-Leads Synthesis Report
TST Issues Brief: Food Security and Nutrition
Lancet article on maternal and child nutrition
The FSN Forum is supported by the project Coherent food security responses: incorporating right to food into global and regional food security initiatives.