The period of dynamic transformation ahead of Myanmar will bring new opportunities as well as challenges, including the risk of a widened gap between those who can benefit from these opportunities and those who fall behind. With well-designed, broad-based social policies, the country can use its resources to alleviate current widespread poverty and social and economic vulnerabilities.
While investing in expanded coverage of health and education services is crucial, it is not always sufficient to ensure that people can access these services. Programmes such as social cash transfers and public employment programmes can help poor families to boost their income security and continue sending their children to school. Social protection can thus be seen as an important social policy instrument to reduce poverty, social and economic vulnerabilities and deprivations that can otherwise have lasting adverse impacts.
Myanmar has defined social protection as “policies, legal instruments and programmes for individuals and households that prevent and alleviate economic and social vulnerabilities, promote access to essential services and infrastructure and economic opportunity, and facilitate the ability to better manage and cope with shocks that arise from humanitarian emergencies and/or sudden loss of income”.
Social protection is therefore a social policy, like health care or education, and therefore an investment in a country’s human capital and economic development. It’s complementarity to other social policies lies in its ability to reduce household level social and economic barriers (income poverty, social vulnerabilities etc) to accessing services and engaging in productive activities. At the same time, by promoting demand for social services, social protection also stimulates their provision.
In January 2013, the Nay Pyi Taw Accord Conference established a Social Protection sub-Sector Working Group (SPSWG) to coordinate the efforts of the Government, development partners, and non-governmental organizations in preparing a National Social Protection Strategy.
Accordingly, the UNCT identified social protection as a priority within its 2012-2015 Strategic Framework. It was guided in part by the concept of a ‘Social Protection Floor’ (SPF) which was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 101st Session in June 2012. The Constitution of Myanmar’s provisions on the right to health and education for all, as well as the provisions of the 2012 Social Security Law, are very much in the spirit of the SPF.
In January 2014, the SPSWG, led by UN endorsed a plan of activities for completing Myanmar’s first national Social Protection Strategy, and established a Technical Working Group (TWG) to support the Strategy’s preparation. As a result and through a consultative process, the first ever National Social Protection Strategic for Myanmar was adopted at the end of 2014, with 8 flagship programmes identified and costed:
1. Cash transfers for pregnant women and children to age 2
2. Child allowance for children aged 3-15
3. Cash transfers for Persons with Disabilities
4. School Feeding for children attending school
5. Public Employment and Vocational Education
6. Social Pensions for those aged 65 and above
7. Older Persons Self Help Groups (OPSHGs)
8. Integrated Social Protection System (ISPS) to ensure the presence of social workers at township level
Several of these programmes have already witnessed initial implementation. The new Government established in 2016 reaffirmed its commitment to the National Social Protection Strategic Plan and it's scaled up implementation, thus confirming a commitment for the gradual expansion of social protection in Myanmar. This is also a useful road map to coordinate development partners’ support towards building an effective national social protection system in Myanmar.