ASEAN countries urged to boost spending on social protection

MANILA, Philippines – Civil society organizations (CSOs) from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have come together to push their respective governments to increase budget allocation for social protection. 

The Network for Transformative Social Protection (NTSP), ASEAN Sogie Caucus, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council, Migrants Forum in Asia, DIGNIDAD, Coalition of the Services of the Elderly, and SENTRO made this call ahead of the ASEAN High-Level Conference on Social Protection. 

Citing data from a 2015 study of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the groups said that 8 in 10 people around the world lack adequate social protection. 

They pointed out that among the Southeast Asian countries, only Thailand and Vietnam meet the 6% of GDP spending recommended by the ILO, at  7.2% and 6.8% allocation, respectively.

“While some Southeast Asian states have registered impressive economic growth, majority of the people continue to experience social insecurity, increasing poverty and vulnerability, widening inequality, and life-threatening impacts of severe environmental degradation,” the groups said in a collective statement.

But even some of the social protection programs in Thailand are also at risk due to the political situation in that country.

The country provides universal health care and social pension, child allowance for the indigents, and social security for informal workers. But the military government raises issues on why the government would have to shoulder the cost even when families can afford it, said Suntaree Saeng Ging of HomeNet Southeast Asia. 

Beyond dole out 

A survey released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in May showed that the region has fallen behind others in improving social protection financing and coverage. 

The UNESCAP report said that expanding coverage for social protection is among the schemes that could distribute economic growth and limit inequality. Countries with higher spending for this aspect were found to have lower poverty incidence. 

Lack of social protection is persistent in the region despite the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection in 2013 and the creation of the Regional Framework and Action Plan in 2015. (READ: Without pension, senior citizens forced to continue working

The CSOs hope the scheduled conference will be a venue to come up with concrete measures to implement the declaration. 

“The ASEAN Declaration on Social Protection deserves to be implemented and budgeted. There are no clear accountabilities, resource allocations, and participatory mechanisms that would ensure each ASEAN state undertakes or improves social protection measures,” said the CSOs. 

They also urged the ASEAN governments to go beyond treating social protection as safety nets and dole outs for their citizens.  

“There’s still a stress on social protection as addressing risks and vulnerabilities. There is no mention of addressing poverty and inequality. Somehow, the social aspect of social protection has not been that emphasized,” said Ana Maria Nemenzo of NTSP.

Among the other aspects of social protection ASEAN countries need to address are informal and precarious work, gender discrimination, poor wages, job security, and issues of migrant workers. 

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, meanwhile, encouraged the ASEAN community to develop a model for social welfare to ensure that social protection programs are carried out effectively and efficiently. 

Taguiwalo is the country’s ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Leader (ASCC). ASCC is one of the 3 community councils within ASEAN that is focused on nurturing the human, cultural, and natural resources for sustainable development. –

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.