Civil society of Uzbekistan discusses key findings of the ILO, UNICEF, World Bank joint study on national social protection
Experts and the civil society of Uzbekistan are discussing the reform of the social protection system for many years. Now, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Uzbekistan, it is gaining more urgency. What is the role of social protection? What are the strengths and weaknesses of Uzbekistan’s social protection system? How can the national social protection system be strengthened to maintain living standards and build resilience to shocks like COVID-19? Some of the answers can be found in a new study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the World Bank launched jointly with the ‘Yuksalish’ Nationwide Movement.
The study, ‘An Assessment of the Social Protection System in Uzbekistan’, was placed to collect feedback from social partners and the general public, especially from persons living in poverty and beneficiaries of social protection programmes, people with disabilities, the elderly, youth, informal sector workers, and the unemployed. Anyone can access the study on the platform and leave comments on the page.
“The study provides a detailed analysis of the national social protection system. The document also presents feasible recommendations which are useful in informing the Government's programmes in response to the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, more than ever, we need to maintain a dialogue with the population in the field of social protection in Uzbekistan.” said Mr. Bobur Bekmurodov, Chairman of the ‘Yuksalish’ Nationwide Movement.
The study reviews the effectiveness of the main social protection programmes in Uzbekistan. It identifies the main strengths and weaknesses of Uzbekistan’s social protection system and offers a set of conclusions and recommendations to strengthen it.
The analysis shows that in 2018 the social protection system supported approximately 55 percent of the population. The total number of beneficiaries of all social protection programmes fell from 8.1 million people in 2012 to 6.4 million in 2017. The greatest fall was recorded among beneficiaries of unemployment benefits and child benefits for low-income families.
“One of the main takeaways of the study is a need for clear leadership and a coordination entity capable of developing and implementing a national social protection strategy. The strategy will begin, in the short term, to close important coverage gaps in the system—in particular among children and their families, among people with disabilities, and a growing gap among older persons. It would also ensure a holistic approach to social security, social assistance, social services, and active labour market programmes, leading to more effective use of allocated resources and better protection of the population, especially the most vulnerable,” said Ms. Yulia Oleinik, UNICEF Uzbekistan Chief of Social Policy.
Furthermore, over 55 percent of working-age people are in the informal sector and do not participate in contributory social insurance schemes nor can they access existing guarantees. This group of people, along with the low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly, is at high risk in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The study’s finding that 44 percent of Uzbekistan’s population benefits from social insurance programmes points to the importance of social insurance mechanisms to provide adequate, periodic guarantees with significant impact on poverty reduction even in times when budgetary allocations for social assistance programmes are dwindling. An adequately funded and well-designed social protection system, which includes workers in informal economy, is a key to building the resilience of individuals and households and economies to health, social, economic, and climate-related shocks,” noted Ms. Jasmina Papa, Social Protection Specialist, ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team and Country Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The World Bank estimates that close to half a million additional people in Uzbekistan will likely fall into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—with high risks of further deterioration in the event of a more extended emergency. Therefore, more than ever, an inclusive and responsive social protection system is required to ensure that all people in need across the country are protected. The study identifies key coverage gaps in the population: nearly half of all citizens and one-third of the poor are not included in any social protection scheme.
“The latest COVID pandemic across the country and the natural disasters that have recently affected the well-being of thousands of residents of Bukhara and Syrdarya Regions add to the sense of urgency to build greater resilience through expanded social assistance, especially among poor and near-poor households who are disproportionally affected by the impacts of such crises. We hope that our Uzbek partners will find the study’s conclusions and recommendations useful in light of their efforts to reform the national social protection system. The World Bank, UNICEF, and ILO stand ready to help the Government develop effective, responsive, sustainable, and inclusive social protection programs supporting various groups of people in need,” said Ms. Maddalena Honorati, Senior Economist, the World Bank.
All the opinions expressed during the public consultations will be analysed and presented to the government decision-makers and international partners during a planned round table meeting.