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Social Protection Mechanisms in a Covid-19 Pandemic ; Understanding the impacts, response and lessons



Theme: Social Protection Mechanisms in a COVID-19 Pandemic: Understanding the intersection of impacts, response, and lessons



























1.0          INTRODUCTION


The COVID-19 pandemic has had enormous negative socio-economic impacts and tested the resilience of people across all income levels. However, as with most crises, the poor disproportionately face the largest challenge in coping with economic shocks given their low asset base and social net worth.

Under its COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan, the government introduced several interventions to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on the vulnerable.  Measures have included several months of free water and free or subsidized electricity services to public utility customers; soft loans to qualified micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. The government has also leveraged its main social safety net programs, including Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program to support Ghana’s poorest and most vulnerable families.

Under its Partnership Beyond Aid programme, funded by the UK Aid, STAR-Ghana Foundation collaborated with the Centre for Social Policy Studies (CSPS) of the University of Ghana to undertake an analysis of the State of Social Protection in Ghana, examining programs that were deployed in response to COVID-19 and identify new needs that have emerged because of the pandemic that has to be adequately addressed by existing interventions.


SGF convened a forum on February 24, 2022 to share and discuss, findings from the report.


Objectives of the meeting

  • To disseminate research analysis of the state of social protection in Ghana and the covid-19 response
  • To identify advocacy issues for uptake by civil society actors and government in social and public policy processes to strengthen social protection in Ghana



Participants were made up of Academia, International NGOs, Donor organizations, Ministries and Agencies, MMDAs, CSO, and professional bodies. 


2.0        PROCEEDINGS

2.1        Opening

The program started at 10:00 with an opening prayer, followed by self-introductions.  The forum was moderated by Dr. Esther Ofei- Aboagye, Chairperson, Governing Council, STAR-Ghana Foundation.



2.2. Welcome, Address by Dr. Esther Ofei-Aboagye, Chairperson Governing Council, STAR-Ghana Foundation.


Dr Esther Ofei-Aboagye in her address welcomed all participants to the convening. According to her, Social Protection has gained currency over the past 10 years in the country. Ghana formulated SP strategy in 2007 and from the platform-initiated work on Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), which is a cash assistance program. She stated that the nation over the past years has been looking at ways to structure a response to SP. This led to the development of the second strategy in 2012. In 2016, the National Social Protection policy was formulated and launched. There have been several attempts to have a structured response to Social Protection in all dimensions to contain and include emergencies but the onset of COVID-19 in 2019 brought to the fore the need to have an appropriate shock response mechanism and mainstream these efforts to make sure they are fit for purpose. SGF is dedicated to promoting active citizenship in giving citizens a voice in formulating and responding to issues that affect them. SGF through its project Partnership Beyond AID with funding from FCDO carried out assessments and reports and collaborated with the Centre for Social Policy Studies (CSPS) of the University of Ghana to describe new initiatives and existing policies that were deployed in response to covid 19 in the areas of health, education, and livelihood and the gaps therein. This is to help generate some insights into the way forward.

According to Dr, Esther Ofei-Aboagye, this intervention is timely because the MoGCSP is in the process of reviewing the implementation of the medium-term development plans of the Social Protection Policy and looking for inputs to strengthen the SP bill that is being drafted.  She urged all participants to fully participate in the program


2.3        Brief Remarks


  • Clara Osei Boateng, Governance Advisor, FCDO

In her remarks, she indicated that the UK has always been proud to support initiatives on Social Protection for the vulnerable and provide support to the LEAP Program. They have also over the years invested in the areas of mental health, disabilities, construction of CHP compounds among others. The FCDO committed some funds through SGF to support civil society initiatives to help Government mitigate the impact of COVID on the vulnerable. She indicated that data from the World Bank shows that Social Protection in Ghana has slowed down, the association between economic growth and poverty reduction has also weakened. Ghana

Statistical data also shows that poverty has stagnated which is a concern and a call that more must be done to cushion the poor in society.


  • Professor Akua Anyidoho, Director, Centre for Social Policy Studies, University of Ghana

She indicated that times like these reinforce the need to strengthen social protection and Social Policy because the well-being of human beings cannot be put on hold, while we figure out the money. There is a need to re-centre social protection and social policy as we talk about recovery and resist the attempt of making the poor, poorer.  She expressed her gratitude and appreciation to SGF for bringing on board CSPS to make this country better and recentre Social Protection


  • Mawutor Ablo, Director, PPMED, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection

Mr. Abloh was thankful to SGF and FCDO for their support over the years. He mentioned that COVID 19 has deepened vulnerability and as a Ministry, they were challenged to respond. There was a panic and knee-jerk reaction to the situation. This exposed the strategies of the ministry to scrutiny. The research as will be shared today will provide the Ministry with an opportunity to scrutinize what has been done and what can be done in the future. He said that the Ministry is currently working on the review plan of the implementation of the Social Protection Policy, also developing a Social Protection Bill and a draft Shock Response Social Protection Strategy and thus the research report is timely to enhance these policies to stand the test of time.  


  • Gifty Twum-Ampofo, Deputy Minister of Education

The hon. minister thanked SGF for the invitation extended to her to be part of the program. She indicated that Ghana has achieved favourable socio-economic development and political stability in recent years, made substantial efforts towards improving human development indicators, especially in health and education, and made significant investments in social protection. She admitted that the relatively high rates of economic growth have not benefited the population equally, resulting in persistently high levels of poverty in certain areas, in particular the rural savannah and coastal regions. Her statement also indicated an increase in the number of activities, projects, and programmes related to social protection, such as the National Health Insurance Scheme, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty programme, the School Feeding Programme, and the free maternal health care programme.

She called for a stronger collaboration among all agencies and institutions working on Social Protection to avoid duplication of efforts.  She also called for a monitoring framework and set of indicators to measure progress and improve the efficiency of the system.


2.3        Presentation of Report: by Dr. Stephen Afranie, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Social Policy Studies, University of Ghana and Professor Akua Anyidoho, Director, Centre for Social Policy Studies, University of Ghana



·         While the government has undertaken several and varied measures to contain the pandemic and control its impact, which include movement restrictions, PPE distributions, isolation, closure of places, there are gender and social inclusion dimensions which require some attention in the design and implementation of the measures. For instance, nose masks and facilities for hand washing were not customised to suit PWDs. The height and entire architecture of some veronica buckets for handwashing were beyond the reach of some PWDs due to the nature of their disabilities. Social distancing protocol was introduced without regard for PWDs such as the blind who needed regular assistants and human support in their daily movements.

·         The provision of the PPEs has helped in controlling the spread of the virus, the distribution was skewed towards schools and other formal institutions. People in the informal sectors such as traders at markets, commuters and operators of lorry stations were largely left to the benevolence of NGOs and philanthropist individuals. While children in schools were provided with PPE, their underprivileged counterparts in the streets and deprived communities were not. While there may currently be a lack of comprehensive data on COVID-19 vaccinations, there is every reason to expect that vaccines, as other COVID-19 related amenities and services are as unequal in distribution spatially and across income and social groups.

·         The shift of resources in the health sector to COVID-19 is one factor that has resulted in reduced access to other forms of health services for some vulnerable groups, including children. A UNICEF reports states that, a year into the pandemic, nearly one million children had not received routine health services during the pandemic (UNICEF, 2021).


  • The health budget should be increased to the AU-recommended levels of 15% of annual public expenditure, with the increase going to address income and spatial inequities in health provisioning
  • In particular, resources can be directed to building and resourcing Community-Based Health and Planning Services (CHPS) compounds and other primary health care facilities whose models and physical facilities are more accessible to low-income and rural patients
  • Government to expand telemedicine and e-health in both lower and higher-level facilities across the country.  



·         The government’s attempts at providing alternative methods of teaching and learning during the period of school closures to some extent widened the rural-urban, rich-poor, male-female, abled-disabled divides in accessing quality education because of the uneven distribution of the barriers to e-learning, including high cost, infrastructure, ICT skills, accessibility to quality internet connection and electricity. The major learning channels deployed for the e-learning (radio and TV) technically excluded persons with visual and hearing impairments. The learning gap was wider for girls because of gender division of labour which place on girls a disproportionate burden of domestic and care work. Finally, whereas employees in public schools were guaranteed their salaries and conditions of service the same cannot be said of teachers in private schools who are also tax payers.

·         The COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools has also had differential impacts on female and male learners. School closures have further deepened vulnerabilities associated with female learners in terms of increased engagement in domestic chores, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage, which pose risks to the education of girls. This has necessitated the strengthening of GES’s school re-entry policy to retain pregnant girls in schools, grant them maternity leave and readmit young school mothers to facilitate continuous education, and to prevent exclusion of pregnant school girls and young school mothers from education (STAR-Ghana Foundation and Bortei-Doku Aryeetey, 2021)




·         Facilitate a regularization of GES collaborated Centre for National Distance Learning and Open Schooling (CENDLOS), Ghana Library Authority, and Scholastic for their services to become regular features GES service - to offer students access to the content on the iBox and iCampus, for online and self-guided learning, provide an online learning tool to students and online content at the KG and Lower Primary levels

·         Call for an increase in the budget allocation to the education and health sectors to meet the UNESCO threshold of 15% of the overall budget for education



On a more positive note, the secretariat of the LEAP cash transfer improved payments in terms of promptness and regularity to beneficiaries

·         Ideally the social protection response to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic should have been, among other things, a scaling up of the levels of existing social assistance or the temporarily expansion of coverage to accommodate non-beneficiaries of existing social assistance, or both. However, due to the lack of nationwide household register for targeting, interventions have been fragmented and sporadic during the COVID-19 crisis, making it difficult to rely on existing social protection infrastructure to provide relief. The government has had to adopt multiple targeting schemes for the food distribution in the lock down areas as well as universal schemes to absorb the electricity and waters bills of the entire country because the shock affected almost the entire population.


Key Recommendations

  • Government should invest resources to increase the number of households covered by LEAP, which would include existing beneficiaries’ households as well as those that may have fallen into poverty during the period of the pandemic.
  • As a matter of urgency, the Ghana Social Protection Bill must be passed to provide clear guidelines, resources, and legal backing for social protection measures in emergencies.




2.4        Discussion of the report: Expert Panel


The panel was made up of the following people

  • Professor Akua Anyidoho, Director, Centre for Social Policy Studies, University of Ghana
  • Jaleel Odoom, Chairperson, Inclusion Ghana
  • Robert Osei-Tutu, Programme Specialist (Social Transfers), UNICEF
  • Mawutor Ablo, Director, PPMED Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection
  • Susan Ayertey, Executive Director, FIDA


Highlights of the Panel Discussion

  • Coordination was an issue that came up strongly in the report. The report indicated that organizations/institutions working on gender, children and social inclusion issues are working in silos, which sometimes leads to duplication of efforts. Panelists suggested the need for all institutions to collaborate and create synergies to enhance efficiency and ensure value for money. An inter-ministerial team, which involves civil society actors to coordinate national and sub-national efforts is important to take up in future emergency response.
  • Interventions implemented by Government did not take into consideration issues of disability. This made it difficult for PWDs to access certain services during the period. For example, people with autism and have sensory issues will find it difficult to wear a nose mask. Veronica Buckets were placed at areas where it was difficult for a physically challenged person to access. It’s important for actors-state and non-state to consult with association of disability groups to enable them tailor interventions that suit them.
  • One other key observation noted was that most of the interventions rolled out by the government targeted the formal sectors. The informal sectors were left out, meanwhile, they constitute a larger number of the population and are also dominated by women. Again, interventions targeted cities/areas under lockdown, but the impact of the lockdown affected people leaving in other parts of the country. Future interventions should promote inclusivity.
  • Gender-based violence was on the increase during the lockdown, however, not much information was given on how abused persons can access care and support services. panelists called for the establishment of Sexual & Gender-Based Violence Corners at the health facilities, same strategy as the Adolescent Friendly Corners as established at clinics, hospitals etc.  With these available, people can easily have access to care and professional help when needed.
  • The need for the MoGCSP to finalize the Shock Responsive Strategy Document that can be used when in an emergency context. This requires collaboration from all relevant sectors.
  • The MoGCSP will be doing a re-assessment of the LEAP program and it is noted those with improved poverty levels will be moved into productive inclusion so that new people, in need of support can be brought on board.
  • Delays in the payment of LEAP should be looked at ensuring cash transfers are paid on time



2.5        Stakeholder Consensus on key action points to take forward

  • The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has begun the development of a Shock Response & Emergency Strategy. Following issues raised around a coordinated response, and targeting of diverse needs, it is recommended that the Ministry builds consultations with civil society actors and relevant ministries for inputs into finalizing the strategy.


  • One thing to learn from the pandemic is prioritizing emergency preparedness. It is important that National Contingency Plan that profile risks, response, and responsibilities is put in place. From this plan, sector specific strategies can be developed.
  • The National Single Household Registry is a critical intervention to enable targeting for social protection intervention. It is recommended that household registry project is completed and used as reference for social protection support.
  • Government to see to the passage of the Ghana Social Protection Bill for effective targeting of the vulnerable during emergencies, and for better policy guidelines and resources to respond to the needs of the vulnerable during emergency


3.0        CLOSING

The meeting came to an end at 2:00 pm with a closing prayer by one of the participants.












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