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What can data tell us about international commitment to providing access to disability benefits?


Written by Patrick LlewellinDiloá Athias, and Bjorn Gelders 

In recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Development Pathways is launching the 2019 edition of our Disability Benefit Database  a unique inventory of tax-financed disability benefits in low- and middle-income countries around the world.  

Persons with disabilities – and their households – face a higher risk of living in poverty than people without disabilitiesEven when incomes are similar, people with disabilities tend to have a lower standard of living because they incur additional disability-related costs, such as equipment, modifications, and support. 

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – now ratified by 181 countries around the world – recognises the ‘right to social protection’ and that governments should provide assistance to meet disability-related expenses. Yet, in reality, it is estimated that only 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities receive a disability benefit.   

Development Pathways therefore created the Disability Benefits Database, to give some much needed publicity to this oft-neglected but critical social protection instrument. It offers indicators on the number of recipients, transfer values and programme expenditures as well as information pertaining to targeting criteria and disability identification methods. Data was standardised to ensure cross-country comparability.  

Overall, we identified 56 tax-financed disability benefits across 37 low- and middle-income countries. All indicators in the 2018 edition of the database were reviewed and updated, and new information was added for nine schemes and two countries. Some headline findings that can be derived from the database include the following: 

  • The coverage of disability benefits is often inadequate. Disability benefit schemes reach 0.9 per cent of the total population, on average. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), however, the prevalence of severe disability is between 2.2 and 3.8 per cent. These figures suggest that many people with disabilities are excluded from social protection systems, even in countries that have disability benefits in place. Indonesia is a case in point: it is the fourth largest country in the world with a population of 270 million people, but its disability benefit scheme covers only 22,000 recipients. 
  • The vast majority of disability benefit programmes are means-testedLess than a third of schemes in the database are accessible to all persons with disabilities, irrespective of their income.  
  • There is wide variation in the generosity of disability benefits between regions and countries. A typical scheme in Latin America provide a transfer value equivalent to 19 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, well above the average generosity of disability benefits in Asia (14 per cent of GDP per capita)Africa (11 per cent) and Oceania (4 per cent).  
  • Public expenditures on tax-financed disability benefits are modest. Nearly all countries spend less than 0.5 per cent of GDP on funding them. At country level, expenditure on disability benefits ranges from less than 0.1 per cent of GDP in Bangladesh to 0.8 per cent in Armenia. This reflects differences in policy priorities, demographics, coverage and generosity. 

 On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let’s remind ourselves of the critical role of disability benefits in inclusive social protection systems, and reflect on whether they are given sufficient attention by policy makers, development partners and donors. Our database illustrates that many governments in low- and middle-income countries have found it possible to introduce such schemes, but it also reveals challenges with under-coverage and adequacy. We hope that the database provides a valuable resource for practitioners and advocates and would welcome feedback and inputs to increase its breadth and scope. 


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