Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Social Protection Policymaking in Nepal

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Social Protection Policymaking in Nepal

Article excerpt

Introduction

Little is known about social protection policy making in Nepal (Koehler & Khatiwada, 2014). Social protection, is better known as 'welfare' or 'social security' in high-income countries.2 It encompasses social assistance, social security, employment-assistance, and social safety nets. Redistribution or welfare involves using taxes and other state resources to help those who are poor or vulnerable to poverty and hardship. In this paper, social protection is defined or used as an umbrella term for policies and assistance associated with the state that involve in-kind or cash transfers, and insurance- or employment-related assistance that protects citizens against vulnerability, risk and poverty deemed unacceptable by society.

The idea of a 'social protection system' or a 'overarching framework' that goes beyond programs is globally trending. The Social Protection Floors (SPF) initiative drives this global trend. The SPF is a concept of protection that is nationally developed based on international norms of social protection. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2012), 'national floors of social protection aim to extend social security vertically (providing more comprehensive services and benefits) and horizontally (extending coverage to a greater number) to cover all groups.' SPFs should comprise at least the following: access to essential healthcare, including maternity care; basic income security for children; basic income security for persons in active age who are unable to earn sufficient income; and basic income security for older persons (ILO, 2012). A social protection framework explores the policy approaches that underpin programs in order to generate reform, reduce fragmentation and overcome the lack of coordination and politicisation of social protection (See: Barrientos & Hulme, 2010; Gentilini, 2005; Midgley, 2010). In Nepal, a National Social Protection Framework (NSPF) was initiated in 2009 by the UCPN-Maoists and was the first attempt to develop a national social protection policy in Nepal.

Horizontal inequalities or group based exclusion contributed to Nepal's ten-year civil war (1996 - 2006). Despite Nepal's post-conflict social inclusion agenda, many challenges face the state as it reforms from an exclusive Hindu monarchy into an inclusive federal democratic republic that protects its citizens. Elites are accustomed to power and continually try to augment it. Citizens, especially those considered excluded, struggle to have their needs met as the hierarchical social stratification system that has been in place since the 17th century maintains a privileged minority. Attempts to reform social protection policy along a rights-based approach such as the SPF must tackle centuries old social structures along with elite attitudes of deserving and entitled.

Gentilini (2005, p. 134) cautions that developing a social protection system is more easily said than done as it involves unexplored and undocumented institutional, policy and operational challenges. As others have argued, the degree of civil servant autonomy, and the nature of their linkages to political elites, can have implications for the reach and effectiveness of social assistance programs (See: Alesina & Tabellini, 2004; Barrientos & Pellissery, 2012, p. 6). Social actors have 'multiple goals and the political game, in which they engage, needs a far richer account than traditionally provided for in the literature on welfare reform' (Natali & Rhodes, 2004, p. 6). The literature on social protection policy adoption in low-incomes countries is often put down an elusive 'political will' (Schuring, 2012, p. 164). This is because states in the developing world are often 'facades', concealing shadow, parallel or patronage-based systems of rule (O'Donnell, 2004). It is difficult to understand why some policies stall and other gain traction. In this paper, many reasons are given for why the NSPF remains in draft form all of which conceal Nepal's real power holders. …

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