Social protection may have potential to build state institutions and contribute to social cohesion by strengthening the state–citizen ‘contract’, promoting ‘social inclusion, integration and greater accountability’ (UNDP, 2016: 20). This relationship is widely discussed but is complex and there is no rigorous evidence to support the link between social protection, state-building, and social cohesion (Carpenter et al., 2012). A Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) study finds that ‘the simple receipt of a payment was generally not associated with changes in perception of government, except for the odd case’, likely due to more specific factors colouring perceptions (e.g. the low value of payments combined with irregular delivery and difficulty of accessing payments) (Nixon & Mallett, 2018: 18).
Most of the literature on this topic comes from fragile and conflict-affected contexts, where there can be a post-conflict window of opportunity for state-building and where social protection may play an important role. For example, analysis of civil unrest in 14 states in India between 1973 and 1999 found redistributive transfers were ‘a more successful and cost-effective means to reduce civil unrest’ than policing (Justino, 2011: 3).
Hickey (2011) sets out some of the challenges and risks for donors in supporting social protection from a social contract perspective, looking in particular at the experience in Africa. The challenge is how donors can engage ‘with issues of sovereignty, ownership and working in more politically attuned ways with regard to country systems, political discourses and existing policy channels’ (Hickey, 2011: 18). The risk is that donors damage existing social contracts for social protection – which ‘are fundamentally concerned with the relationship between national governments and their citizens’ (ibid.: 16). Meanwhile donors are in ‘a structurally difficult position from which to promote the types of political changes required to catalyse or strengthen social contracts and have a deeply problematic track record in this regard’ (ibid.).
Recent research explores the potential of social protection to be provided and accessed in ways grounded in a rights-based vision of social justice, and thereby uphold the provision of basic social rights to all (Sabates-Wheeler et al., 2017: 6; Devereux et al., 2011). However, most social protection provision, in particular in low-income and aid-dependent countries, continues to be income-focused, discretionary, and often conditioned (rather than entitlement-based), with recipients continuing to view participation as a gift rather than a right (Sabates-Wheeler et al., 2017: 6, 39). To transition to justice-based social protection, catalysts can include a strong civil society, donor support for setting up social protection institutions, activism to help mobilise citizens to claim their rights, or accountability mechanisms such as grievance mechanisms or social audits (ibid.). To address the different types of citizen concern that social protection programmes can elicit, a suite of collective and individual social accountability mechanisms is ‘a better starting point for the design of an effective strategy’ than a single mechanism (Ayliffe et al., 2017: 6).
Ayliffe, T., Aslam, G., & Schjødt, R. (2017). Social accountability in the delivery of social protection (Final Research Report). Orpington: Development Pathways.
A report on the findings of an investigation into the potential of social accountability in the social protection sector for improving service delivery and state–society relations. It includes a review of the global literature and four country case studies. Key lessons include grounding social accountability in social protection in contextual analysis, and identifying any binding constraints, while noting that state support is as important as citizen action for successful social accountability but has not received as much attention. Other lessons are outlined in the report.
Nixon, H., & Mallett, R. (2017). Service delivery, public perceptions and state legitimacy: Findings from the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium. London: Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.
One of a series of synthesis reports produced by the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC). ‘Focusing on sub-national regions of eight fragile and conflict-affected countries – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Uganda – SLRC examined the links between people’s experiences with service delivery and their relationships with the state’ (p. v). Key conclusions are that there is ‘an important role for the underlying narratives about and expectations of the state in influencing how people respond to services’, with legitimacy ‘better understood as a relational quality rather than a characteristic of a given organisation or institution’ (p. vi).
Sabates-Wheeler, R., Abdulai, A. G., Wilmink, N., de Groot, R., & Spadafora, T. R. (2017). Linking social rights to active citizenship for the most vulnerable: The role of rights and accountability in the ‘making’ and ‘shaping’ of social protection (Innocenti Working Paper 2017-14). Florence: UNICEF Office of Research.
This paper considers what a citizen-based approach can contribute to social protection. It looks at how social protection can be provided to address vulnerability and uphold basic social rights. The paper finds that currently most social protection programmes in low-income and aid-dependent countries ‘remain income-focused, discretionary, and conditioned’, shaped by perceptions of ‘“deserving” and “undeserving” poor’ (p. 6).
Hickey, S. (2011). The politics of social protection: What do we get from a ‘social contract’ approach (Working Paper 216). Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre.
This paper identifies growing calls to reframe the politics of poverty reduction, and of social protection in particular, in terms of extending the ‘social contract’ to the poorest groups. It cautions that different ideological approaches to social contract thinking pose dangers and difficult decisions to approaching social protection from a social contract perspective. The paper sets out the challenges for donors in engaging with issues of sovereignty, ownership, and working in more politically attuned ways with regard to country systems, political discourses and existing policy channels.
Samuels, F., Jones, N., with Malachowska, A. (2013). Holding cash transfers to account: Beneficiary and community perspectives. London: ODI.
Barca, V. & Notosusanto, S. (2012). Review of, and recommendations for, grievance mechanisms for social protection programmes. Final report summary. Oxford: Oxford Policy Management.
Devereux, S., McGregor, A., & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (2011). Introduction: Social protection for social justice. IDS Bulletin 42(6): 1–9.
Justino, P. (2011). Carrot or stick? Redistributive transfers versus policing in contexts of civil unrest (IDS Working Paper 382). Brighton: IDS.