Spending Uneven on Social Protection in Asia and Pacific, Reports Asian Development Bank
Photo courtesy of Asian Development Bank (ADB)
story highlights

The Asian Development Bank published two reports, analyzing 2015 data on social protection program spending in Asia and the Pacific.

The reports show that social protection spending in Asia favors the non-poor over the poor, and tends to favor men over women.

Social protection spending in the Pacific also favors non-poor and men, with an increasing gap as expenditures grow.

July 2019: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has published progress reports on social protection indicators for 24 countries in Asia and 13 in the Pacific. The two sub-regional reports analyze 2015 data on social protection programmes, building on the Social Protection Index previously developed by the ADB.

Each report updates the results of analyses conducted in 2016, which were based on 2012 data for the region. The publications focus on spending for social protection, including insurance, assistance and active labor market programs. The analyses include social protection coverage and benefit size, poverty and gender dimensions of spending, and changes between 2009 and 2015. The Social Protection Indicator (SPI) assesses these metrics, and is used by governments, international organizations, civil society and academia to monitor the quality and scope of social protection in the region.

The report finds that social protection spending in Asia favors the non-poor over the poor, and men over women, but social assistance is more equitable.

The report on Asia finds that average social protection expenditure was 5.3% of aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015. However, the analysis notes wide variance at country level, ranging from less than 1% of GDP (in Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar) to 21% of GDP (in Japan). In terms of coverage, social protection extended to approximately 55% of intended beneficiaries in Asia. The report emphasizes that nearly half of intended beneficiaries remain without support. High-income countries (HICs) featured the widest coverage of social insurance—at over 70%—but countries with greater participation in the informal economy featured an absence of coverage. In terms of the size of social protection benefits relative on a per-capita basis, upper-middle-income countries (UMICs) had the highest level of benefits received by each actual beneficiary (16.2% of GDP per capita), followed by lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) at 10%, then HICs at 8.5%.

Looking at the poverty and gender dimensions, the report notes that “social protection spending in Asia favors the non-poor over the poor.” Social assistance spending appears more equitable, given that it is “primarily used as a tool for supporting the poor in the region.” Social protection expenditure as a whole slightly favors men over women, at 2.1% of GDP per capita and 1.9% respectively. The report notes similar trends in access to social insurance, in part due to gender discrimination in the labor force, with more men having a formal wage or salaried employment. Social assistance appears to be evenly distributed by gender, with the report flagging that “many universal and means-tested cash transfer programs prioritize women… and incorporate gender-sensitive design.”

Over time, social protection expenditures have increased in Asia, from 3.4% of GDP per capita in 2009 to 4.2% in 2015. The report highlights that the primary driver of this increase has been an increase in social insurance, which showed upward trends in 21 of 24 Asian countries. Social protection coverage also increased in 17 countries, with the most significant expansions seen on health insurance, particularly in Indonesia, Maldives, the Philippines and Thailand. However, on the whole, social protection spending from 2009 to 2015 continued to favor non-poor over poor, despite trends of increased spending on social assistance programs that skew towards the poor.

The report on Pacific developing countries finds that average social protection expenditure in 2015 was 6% of aggregate GDP, and with less variance across countries than in Asia. Expenditure ranged from 1.1% in Papua New Guinea to 13.8% in Timor-Leste.

Social protection coverage is lower relative to Asia, with approximately one third of eligible persons covered. Of the three types of social protection, the report notes that social assistance showed the widest coverage, at 20%. In terms of benefit size, average social protection benefit received by each beneficiary in the Pacific was 54.1% of GDP per capita, and with high variance. Social protection benefits ranged from 2.1% of GDP per capita in Vanuatu to 251% in Papua New Guinea.

Looking at the poverty and gender dimensions, social protection spending favors non-poor, similarly to Asia. The gap is particularly wide on social insurance, where spending is nearly five times higher for non-poor than for poor, in part due to the bias towards those in formal employment. Unlike in Asia, social assistance in the Pacific also shows a slight skew towards non-poor as well, at 1.1% of GDP per capita compared to 0.7%. Similar to Asia, social protection spending favored men over women, again due to higher male participation in the formal economy.

Over time, expenditures rose considerably since 2009, improving from 4.1% aggregate GDP to 6% in 2015. Increases were seen across all types of social protection spending, but the gap between poor and non-poor also increased.

Common conclusions include the fact insurance dominates the various areas of social protection, and that although social protection expenditure is increasing, more is needed in order to develop comprehensive and sustainable social protection systems. The Asia report notes that old-age pension is expanding, though social protection in health remains inadequate, and there also appears to be a trade-off between widening coverage and offering generous benefits to all intended beneficiaries. In the Pacific, the report concludes that social assistance does not fully support vulnerable groups, child welfare assistance requires expansion, and social protection must be more gender sensitive. [Publication: The Social Protection Indicator for Asia] [Publication: The Social Protection Indicator for the Pacific]

related posts