15 Facts on Social Protection and Safety Nets

Here are some key facts on the link between social protection, hunger, nutrition and climate change adaptation.

People who are poor are vulnerable to hunger and shocks – even small ones – that can push them closer to destitution, malnutrition and starvation, even premature mortality. Social protection policies and programmes play a critical role in reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition and the World Food Programme (WFP) supports nutrition- and climate-sensitive social protection and safety net interventions around the world.

1)    Social safety nets, a major component of social protection systems, are among the main instruments for building resilience and for protecting the poor in fragile, conflict-, and violence-affected situations.

2)    Social safety net programs have been shown to positively impact household expenditures on food and household food security and studies have shown that the impact of these interventions persists well after programme exit.

3)    Cash transfer programs can help encourage changes in caregiving practices to promote early childhood nutrition, psychosocial stimulation, or health thus enhancing early childhood development.

4)    Many of the 18,000 child deaths that occur every day could be prevented through social protection and essential cash transfers that could help improve their nutrition, health, education and care services.

5)    Only 28 percent of women in employment worldwide receive maternity cash benefits which provide some income and food security during the final stages of pregnancy and after childbirth.

6)    Social pensions provide an additional stream of income at the household level that can contribute to household food security and nutrition. Research shows that children in South African households receiving a pension grow on average 5cm taller than those in households without a pension.

7)    School feeding programmes help reduce hunger and improve food security and encourage children – particularly girls, to attend school by providing food which helps them concentrate and learn, and ultimately increases their chances for a better future.

8)    Successful asset creation programmes have been able to mitigate the impact of specific climate shocks by ensuring food is on the table all year round, creating or maintaining useful infrastructure and improving agricultural yields thereby enhancing the incomes and food security of the rural poor.

9)    Unconditional cash transfers can stimulate investment in agriculture and other livelihood activities by easing household cash flow constraints1 while also improving the amount and quantity of food available for consumption, particularly during shocks or lean periods2.

10)    In Nicaragua research has found that boys exposed to a conditional cash transfer programme during their first 1,000 days of life have better cognitive outcomes when they are 10 years old than those exposed to the same programme later in life.

11)    Evidence from Indonesia and the Philippines shows that cash transfer programs increased prenatal and postnatal care, regular age-appropriate weighing, and facility-based deliveries for pregnant women and new mothers.

12)    In Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico and Zambia higher income from predictable cash transfers have helped rural households increase investments in agricultural and non-agricultural activities to generate income.

13)    Cash transfer programs have major a positive spill-over effect on the local economy of targeted communities, with a nominal total income multiplier ranging from US$1.08 to US$2.52 dollars for each dollar transferred.

14)    The majority of the world’s population do not have access to the fundamental human right to social security: 73 percent are only covered partially or not at all by comprehensive social security systems.

15)    Although 1.9 billion people are enrolled in social safety net programs around the world, only one-third of the poor is covered by any type of social safety net.

1.    HLPE, 2012. Social protection for food security. A report by the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome 2012. (Facts 7, 8)
2.    World Social Protection Report 2014/15: Building economic recovery, inclusive development and social justice, International Labour Office – Geneva: ILO, 2014 (Facts 4, 5, 6, 9, 14)
3.    World Bank. 2015. The State of Social Safety Nets 2015. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-0543-1. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (Facts 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15)

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