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COVID-19: A chance to empower citizens through social protection

1 May 2020 — By Sue Cant, Kathryn Taetzsch

Billions of US$ are now being distributed to citizens by governments to stave off deteriorating economic impact and rising poverty from COVID-19. The unprecedented pandemic demands an unprecedented government response. More than 126 countries have already introduced or adapted social protection or labour policies to assist those in need. The World Bank, which has played a key role in building infant social protection systems in many developing countries, has urged countries, including Bangladesh, to increase safety nets in response to COVID-19.

In the current discussion and commitment to more cash transfer programming through social protection mechanisms, one aspect seems to lack – social accountability – or citizen feedback to government (which is the duty-bearer). Social accountability has a decades-long history in many contexts, World Vision employs a “Citizen Voice and Action” community-empowerment approach in many countries and highlights here a recent EU-supported evaluation of this approach for Government-facilitated Safety Net in Bangladesh, ensure wider access of government safety nets to those in need, ensuring better access for women and the most vulnerable.
The independent evaluation results showed that those target beneficiaries accessing safety nets – especially cash transfers – at the start of the project were as low as 5%, whereas at the end 74% of beneficiaries had accessed safety nets.

This highlights that, while government may do the right thing by taking immediate action to roll-out safety nets as right now with a scale up for Covid19 response cash transfers, it is critical ensuring increasing information and providing a platform for citizen feedback, that will help those who need it most are reached effectively.