When discussing the social protection governance in developing countries, we usually focus on the Executive Branch institutions and their role in policy development – as well as the design, implementation and monitoring of schemes – but pay little attention to the role of Parliaments. Nonetheless, as part of their key legislative, oversight and representative functions running across the policy-making process, Parliaments have a key role in advancing the social protection agenda and encouraging the progressive realisation of the rights to social security and an adequate standard of living.
An example of social protection governance where a legislative body has been setting the agenda was a recent event organised by the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection, held in Kampala on January 16th 2017. The session focused on making the economic case for social protection and building an inclusive national social security system. In Uganda, in recent years, the Expanding Social Protection Programme (ESP) – funded by DFID and Irish Aid – has been engaging with Parliament to build support for Uganda’s pilot Senior Citizen’s Grant (SCG), a universal social pension for those over-65 years.
In a presentation to MPs by Stephen Kidd of Development Pathways, it was explained how social security contributes to economic growth and that a significant level of investment in social security is a core component of a successful and sustainable market economy. As shown in the publication Uganda’s Senior Citizen’s Grant: a success story from the heart of Africa, the programme is the first step towards building an inclusive national lifecycle social security system. The presentation also stressed that an inclusive social security system will result in positive political, economic and social impacts, including: well-being across the life spectrum, social inclusion, a stimulus to GDP growth, strengthening of the social contract, and more sustainable political support.
MPs actively engaged in the workshop discussions, and strong arguments were made for scaling-up the SCG to cover all of Uganda’s districts. Moreover, several MPs voiced their concerns about the slow speed of the national rollout across the country. A key argument was that, by offering the scheme in only a minority of districts, older people in other districts were being discriminated against. The MPs resolved to boycott the approval of the 2017/2018 national budget if the funds to roll out the SCG are not earmarked.
In any national debate on the fiscal space for social policies, it is essential that Parliaments have a say – based on sound evidence – on the design of the overall national social security system, as well as the political choices a country is willing to make. The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty has forcefully argued that some development initiatives and targeted programmes might not necessarily be rights-promoting or rights-protecting . Nonetheless, counterarguments are often put forward by supporters of targeting that realising economic and social rights is too expensive and that inclusive schemes are “too empowering of the State, are potentially limitless, reward and encourage laziness, penalise wealth creation, undermine economic growth and are inimical to international competitiveness” .
Discussions regarding budget allocation for social policies can be rather tricky, particularly in the case of social protection. As Kidd argues, policy makers often contend that universal social security schemes face the constraints of limited and fixed budgets . However, the overall public support for inclusive social security makes it likely that these schemes will have broad political and financial backing and override concerns about affordability. Research provides evidence of a positive correlation between the coverage of tax-financed pensions and old age pension budgets. Moreover, Murteira argues that “the overwhelming focus on fiscal sustainability has led to a biased approach that consists of defining pension policy according to criteria focused on the means, i.e. the budget constraints, while ignoring the primary purpose of pensions: to provide economic security in old age” .
MPs in Uganda – and, in particular, the leadership of the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection – have made considerable progress in advancing the need for inclusive social protection policies, actively engaging in raising public awareness, mobilising the general public’s opinion on national social security priorities and opening public discussions and exercising social pressure to promote the right to social security for all citizens. Their enthusiasm is a model for other countries to follow.
Alexandra Barrantes is a Senior Social Protection Specialist with Development Pathways. Alexandra has a background in social protection, poverty reduction, inequality, economic, social and cultural rights, and democratic governance.
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, A/HRC/32/31, 28 April 2016, UN: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/088/20/PDF/G1608820.pdf?OpenElement  Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, A/HRC/32/31, 28 April 2016, UN: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/088/20/PDF/G1608820.pdf?OpenElement  The Political Economy of ‘Targeting’ of Social Security Schemes, Stephen Kidd, http://www.developmentpathways.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Political-Economy-of-Targeting-PP19-4.pdf  Murteira, Maria Clara (2015), For an Alternative Framing of Pension Policy, UNRISD Social Protection and Human Rights Platform, Expert Commentary.