Mismatch exists between demography, social protection spending: Experts


Speakers at a webinar on Wednesday said that there is a mismatch between demography and Social Protection spending.

They observed that while only 2% of the Social Protection Budget is allocated for the children aged 0-5 who is 9% of the population, 72% of the Social Protection Budget is allocated for the elderly who are only 8% of the population.

The observations were made in the 7th episode in the online discussion series of SANEM Shongzog, titled “Covid-19 and Social Protection Programmes in Bangladesh”.

Moderated by Dr. Selim Raihan, Executive Director of SANEM and Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, the webinar also had Tommo Hozumi, UNICEF Country Representative in Bangladesh, as a special guest. 

Dr. Bazlul Haque Khondker, Chairman, SANEM, and Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka made a presentation on the occasion.

In his introductory remarks, Dr. Selim Raihan said that conventional measures fail to identify the poor and social protection programmes are intended to complement the poverty reduction programme.

He addressed aspects such as the proportion of GDP spending on social protection, the capacity of the government, and different approaches to social protection programmes. 

In his keynote presentation, Dr. Bazlul Haque Khondker presented the pre-Covid macroeconomic scenario of Bangladesh and pointed out that despite strong performances in macroeconomic indices, the Gini coefficient has also been rising which indicates that inequality has been on the rise. 

Dr. Khondker drew attention to the incredibly high exclusion error—70%, which denotes the proportion of actual poor wrongly classified as “non-poor”. The presentation brought up issues of discrepancies in urban and rural coverage of social protection programmes and inadequateness of coverage in proportion to poverty. 

There is a mismatch between demography and Social Protection spending, Dr. Khondker pointed out. While only 2% of the Social Protection Budget is allocated for the children aged 0-5 who is 9% of the population, 72% of the Social Protection Budget is allocated for the elderly who are only 8% of the population. 

He also presented a brief assessment of the impacts of the pandemic on the country’s GDP growth, household poverty, and income. 

A brief overview of the global approach to Social Protection responses in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic was highlighted in the presentation. In evaluating the Bangladesh Government’s Social Protection response, he pointed out that under normal circumstances almost 60% of the population are excluded from the social protection coverage. 

The expert panel include Md. Azizul Alam, Additional Secretary, Finance Division, Ministry of Finance, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Dr. Sayema Haque Bidisha, Research Director, SANEM, and Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, and Aneeka Rahman, Senior Social Protection Economist, World Bank. Conducted over the video conferencing app Zoom, the webinar was also streamed live on SANEM’s Facebook page. 

In her discussion, Aneeka Rahman stressed on strengthening the health system and resilient recovery. She discussed the shock responsiveness of the social protection programmes and suggested that financing needs to be more flexible. She recommended identifying projects which can be deprioritized and channeling the funds to areas of concern. 

Dr. Sayema Haque Bidisha put emphasis on the inclusion of returning migrant workers in the local economy. 

She also expressed her concern about the low numbers of social protection programs, only 6-7 out of 140-145 programs, targeting urban slums. 

She also called for proper guidelines and measures to ensure accountability for private health care. She proposed instituting an unemployment benefits program at least for a few months and an unemployment register for that purpose.  

Md. Azizul Alam shed light on the history of social protection programmes in Bangladesh. Discussing the targeting problem, he explained that many programs do not differentiate between poor and non-poor, such as the school stipend program. 

He expressed hope that the situation would improve once the National Household Database is complete. 

He also expressed hope that using technology, Bangladesh can solve the problem of inclusion and exclusion errors.  

While addressing, Tommo Hozumi said that the current pandemic has given us an opportunity to reflect on our development path. Discussing the issue of exclusion error, he said such error is not an exception, rather part of a global norm. 

Therefore, he suggested, a more universal approach needs to be adopted. 

Stressing on the importance of Universal Child Grant, he cited the examples of France and Japan and compared the demographic trends of these countries with Bangladesh. 

He added that for full utilization of Bangladesh’s demographic dividend, investing in the children is essential and in that regard, Universal Child Grant is highly important.