Social Protection

Social protection initiatives aim to provide a safety net to protect people from extreme poverty arising from loss or lack of income through illness, old age or disability. Persons with disabilities generally experience greater barriers to work opportunities, and are at higher risk of poverty, so their inclusion in social protection programs is very important.

Social protection initiatives can include country level poverty reduction schemes targeting vulnerable groups in general - such as cash transfers, health insurance, or free transport - and specific or targeted measures, such as disability benefits.

Community level social protection mechanisms can include support provided by community based organisations, self-help groups or Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs).

Implementation of social protection initiatives optimally occurs alongside other efforts which support economic and social inclusion, such as disability inclusive legislation, inclusive education systems and development of an accessible built environment.

Resources below explore disability inclusive social protection theory and practice, considering the various formal and informal mechanisms through which social protection support can be provided, and its challenges.

See also: Participation of persons with disabilities.

SPACE (2021) Inclusive Information Systems for Social Protection: Intentionally Integrating Gender and Disability

This resource considers disability as one of many additional identities women may hold, including older women, youth, refugee, migrant, Indigenous, LGBTI and other minority groups. This resource refers to the need for disaggregated data by sex, age and disability. It also refers to the need for gender and disability-sensitive and transformative social protection involving gender, disability and protection specialists throughout the programme cycle. It suggests project staff could develop a network and learning platform between actors working on gender, disability, social protection, humanitarian response and protection issues.

Centre for Inclusive Policy (2023) The Disability Support Gap: Community support systems for persons with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries

This resource underscores the vital role of community support for people with disabilities, highlighting their diverse needs across life domains and the disparities in accessing such assistance, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). While families and communities often provide primary support, the absence of well-developed formal support services in LMICs places a heavy burden on caregivers, predominantly women and girls. This lack of publicly funded community support increases disability-related costs, perpetuates poverty and vulnerability, and hinders gender equality. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the insufficiency of assistance for individuals with disabilities. This resource provides a framework for comprehending disability-related support needs and addresses the challenges in establishing robust support systems in LMICs, aligning with human rights standards to promote inclusion, choice, and gender parity.

Banks L M, Mearkle R, Mactaggart I, Walsham M, Kuper H & Blanchet K (2016) Disability and social protection programmes in low and middle-income countries: a systematic review

This paper systematically reviews the evidence on whether persons with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries are adequately included in social protection programmes, and assesses the financial and non-financial impacts of participation. Although the evidence base is limited and further research is required, the paper identifies some key considerations for inclusive social protection design, namely: (i) people with disabilities face barriers to accessing social protection programs which results in their exclusion, particularly due to issues with disability assessment processes and the application process (ii) people with disabilities may have increased expenses which need to be taken into account when designing social protection programs (e.g. additional transport and health costs).

Devandas-Aguilar C (2015) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (regarding social protection)

This report provides guidance on the establishment of disability inclusive social protection systems consistent with the obligations set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In contrast to the common notion that people with disability need social protection to compensate for a perceived inability to work, the report argues that “the ultimate aim is to achieve the right to live independently and be included in the community”. The report highlights the importance of disability-inclusive social protection to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and makes recommendations on a number of key design aspects including legal and institutional frameworks, system design, disability benefits, targeting and eligibility, relevance of benefit packages, non-discrimination, accessibility, participation and resource implications.

Palmer M (2012) Social protection and disability: A call for action

This article reviews the relationship between social protection and disability in theory and practice. Through a review of disability inclusive cash transfer programs, this article finds that social protection mechanisms can result in positive economic and social outcomes. However disability inclusive social protection programs remain rare, and persons with disabilities continue to be vulnerable to chronic poverty. This article provides recommendations for how governments can play a greater role in the provision of social protection for persons with disabilities in developing countries, in order to promote an enabling environment which can facilitate the attainment of livelihood security.

Mitra S (2005) Disability and social safety nets in developing countries

This introductory World Bank paper presents mechanisms through which social safety nets such as cash and in-kind transfers and livelihood programs can reach persons with disabilities in developing countries. The paper discusses the roles that safety nets may play with regard to disability, and describes how safety nets can reach persons with disabilities through inclusive mainstream programs as well as disability targeted programs. Strategies for the reduction of environmental, communication and social barriers to effective disability inclusive safety nets are presented.

Secretariat, Conference of States Parties to the CRPD Economic empowerment through inclusive social protection and poverty reduction strategies

This background paper provides an introduction to the impact disability inclusive social protection measures can have, and a summary of United Nations work in this area. It suggests that the promotion of decent employment and social protection are key elements of an emerging post-2015 international development framework. It poses questions to guide United Nations member States in development of disability inclusive social protection mechanisms. It is useful for stakeholders seeking to understand social protection priorities for persons with disabilities in the post-2015 agenda.

Palmer M and Nguyen Thi Minh T (2012) Mainstreaming health insurance for people with disabilities

This article examines the effectiveness of mainstream public insurance schemes for persons with disabilities in Vietnam. While many low- and middle-income countries have introduced public health insurance schemes to increase access to health care and provide financial protection against the costs of care for disadvantaged groups, the results of this study suggest that current community-based methods for targeting persons with disabilities are not effective, and that insurance mechanisms are an unsatisfactory buffer for inpatient-related costs to which people with disability are prone. The paper recommends strategies for ensuring eligibility criteria comprehensively capture persons with disabilities, and that benefits appropriately match their particular needs. It is useful for stakeholders who are responsible for the development of health insurance policy.

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Picture of Waddud (third from left) two men and an older woman sitting on the grass outside using sign language to communicate.

Photo: Wahid Adnan, Drik

Wadud, 40, (third from left) communicates to members of his self-help group using local sign language in Bangladesh. To read Wadud’s full story click here. Copyright: Centre for Disability in Development /CBM Australia