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Social protection shows potential to promote active citizenship

New Working Paper Links Social Rights to Citizen Engagement through Accountability Measures
24 Oct 2017

(24 October 2017) A new UNICEF Innocenti study, Linking Social Rights to Active Citizenship for the Most Vulnerable: The Role of Rights and Accountability in the ‘Making’ and ‘Shaping’ of Social Protection, considers how social protection can address vulnerability while encouraging active citizenship.  The paper shines light on how social protection programmes can be informed and developed through active citizenship measures which simultaneously reduce vulnerability of the poor and strengthen accountability measures that empower citizens to voice their concerns.

Community gathering for a LEAP social protection payment in Maweakpor in the Volta Region, Ghana


Co-authored by Richard de Groot, UNICEF Innocenti consultant, Tayllor Renee Spadafora of UNICEF Ghana, Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai University of Ghana, Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Nikhil Wilmink from the Institute of Development Studies, the Innocenti Working Paper demonstrates how social protection programmes can promote social accountability mechanisms that enhance citizen-state participation.

“In many countries with established social protection policies, there are usually standalone programmes without transformative effects. Social protection has the potential for so much more – to give people a voice in society – and that’s what we’re trying to measure here,” said co-author Richard de Groot.

“A lot of people know what it means to be an active citizen – holding authorities accountable, protesting to achieve goals, etc. – but there is a small proportion of people actually doing this,” said de Groot. “Since social protection targets the most vulnerable populations, including those without a voice in society, if implemented well, social protection has the potential to expand their voices and participation in society.”

Figure: How social accountability mechanisms enable citizen-State interfaces within social protection programmes

Social protection for active citizenship aims to create intrinsic benefits that promote citizen engagement, ideally creating a pathway for citizens to evolve from consumers and users in invited spaces to makers and shapers claiming spaces to voice their concerns to the State.

Looking at evidence from three countries – Brazil, India, and Ghana – the study aims to show how social rights vary across countries and how different cultural contexts and programmes contribute to the stimulation of justice-based claims.

In Ghana, where a higher dependence on aid provision exists, justice-based social protection is in its infancy. However, progress promoting active citizenship is seen emerging on a local level in the form of beneficiary demand and feedback on social protection programmes including the Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP) cash transfer programme.  Ghana’s national social protection policy, launched in June 2016, helps to promote active citizenship and beneficiary rights through accountability measures embedded in the policy. 

In India, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme provides a framework to promote citizen rights and entitlements through accountability and transparency measures enabling citizens to voice their concerns.

In Brazil, the Bolsa Família programmes grew from the municipal level, encouraging citizens to engage and to pressure the state to meet its commitments.

“What we see at the moment is that in a lot of low-income countries, citizen engagement is very much closed and it is the government that decides what programmes happen and how,” de Groot added. “Through mutual reinforcement, programmes focusing on linking social rights to active citizenship allow the State to be more responsive to the needs of its citizens and the citizens to be more engaged in society.”

While the case studies show signs of promise, de Groot notes that despite rapid growth, most programmes currently only promote a “one-way invited space”.  “There is so much potential to move beyond this to get more engaged citizens claiming their space where the most vulnerable can get a double benefit from social protection programmes that help people to fulfil livelihoods and engage in society.”