In early April 2015, the Government of Bangladesh approved its new National Social Security Strategy (NSSS). Since independence, Bangladesh has instituted a range of social security schemes although the level of investment in conventional cash-based schemes has remained relatively low, at no more than 0.7% of GDP, while overall spending on social protection – once civil service pensions and food transfers are included – is over 2% of GDP). Research by Development Pathways has indicated that the impact of the current social security system is minimal, reducing the poverty rate by a mere 4.5%. The Government of Bangladesh has also been concerned about inefficiencies in the system as well as a proliferation of small schemes across a wide range of Ministries (often promoted and financed by development partners). The NSSS is an attempt by the government to bring coherence to the national social security system while also developing a long-term vision for a more modern and comprehensive system. Development Pathways – in collaboration with the Policy Research Institute (PRI) and SANEM – were contracted to support the Planning Commission in developing the Strategy.
As with all modern social security systems, the NSSS adopts a lifecycle approach, which focuses on addressing risks that people face throughout their lives. It sets out commitments to provide and/or expand benefits to older people, people with disabilities, vulnerable women and children. A range of schemes are proposed, with a strong focus on social transfers financed from general government finances. Flagship schemes include a Citizens’ Pension for those aged over 60 years, a Child Grant to support efforts to tackle undernutrition, a Disability Benefit and an allowance for vulnerable women of working age. The Strategy also includes a commitment to develop a national system of contributory old age and disability pensions, which would – in combination with the Citizens’ Pension and Disability Benefit – deliver a comprehensive Pension system. Social security schemes are complemented by active labour market programmes – such as childcare and training – and there are a number of innovative programmes proposed, such as maternity insurance, unemployment insurance and measures to ensure maintenance payments from parents who abandon their children.
The NSSS commits the government to a significant increase in the value of transfers. Bangladesh’s current social security system provides some of the smallest transfers in the world, which is one reason for its minimal impact. For example, the Citizens’ Pension will provide a transfer of US$10.50 per month compared to the current US$4 per month offered by the Senior Citizens’ Allowance, with most other transfers set at a similar level. Coverage will also increase significantly, with most schemes reaching 50% of the population within the chosen category.