Position of the Social Protection Expert Group on the Lebanese Government’s Financial Recovery Plan

POSITION STATEMENT

Collective of Independent Social Protection Experts

Who we are

Collective of Independent Social Protection Experts
We are a group of experts coming from diversified academic, professional, and political backgrounds, with longstanding experience in social, economic, and fiscal domains. What is uniting us is a common concern to support people in Lebanon in accessing their basic rights to social protection, including social assistance programmes, social insurance, as well as proactive and proper labour market policies and regulations.
At a time when Lebanon is facing an economic, fiscal, and monetary crisis, which was further exacerbated by the spread of COVID19 pandemic, leading to the quick deterioration of the socio-economic and living conditions of people in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Government’s response remains limited given the magnitude of the crises. The response falls short of addressing the needs and vulnerabilities in the country and lacks a coherent framing within a longer-term vision and programme.
This position paper is the result of various in-depth discussions within the collective. It serves as an emergency response plan, and as a bridge towards a more comprehensive and overarching social protection policy framework that is based on human rights, and solidarity.

Main Principles
The expert group calls for the adoption of an overall integrated and inclusive approach to social protection that establishes it as an inalienable right for all, and that is driven by the below principles:

  • The foundation of social protection is solidarity not charity. Equitable, progressive, and sustainable financing is key to ensure that everyone contributes according to their capacity and makes social protection based on rights a reality for all.
  • Social protection should be universal in a dual sense: it should cover all people and all contingencies, over the course of the life cycle as well as provide support to cope with unexpected crises.
  • Social protection policies should adopt an overall promotive and preventive approach rather than curative, which would, among others, lessen the costs on the healthcare system notably.
  • Social protection needs to work in synergy and coherence with quality health, education and labour policy, as well as other public policies in order to achieve its full transformative potential.
  • Social protection can and should make a contribution to gender justice, attending to women’s immediate needs, responding to their vulnerabilities, as well as contribute to transforming power relations between men and women in the household, workplace and society as a whole.
  • Social protection policies including social assistance programmes need to be designed based on national dialogue, consultation and communication with all necessary governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, including national experts, social partners, civil society and communities, based on principles of transparency and effective participation.
  • Social assistance should be provided in an integrated manner, ensuring effective linkages to a range of programmes to respond to overall multidimensional individual and household poverty and vulnerabilities and promote productivity, as well as learning from existing (including humanitarian) programme experiences, and designed to maximize social impact.

Position of the Social Protection Expert Group on the Lebanese Government’s Financial Recovery Plan

Over the past decades, successive government policies have culminated in unprecedented macro-economic, fiscal, and monetary downturns. The chronic twin deficit in the fiscal balance, and balance of payment has turned into a sovereign debt crisis coupled with monetary and liquidity crises, and it is mutating into a severe economic contraction, and potential crackdown. The lockdown measures associated with containing the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the ongoing economic collapse. These multi-layered crises are magnified against the background of an embryonic social state, where the latter provides limited and fragmented social rights and services, that are instead provided by private entities, charities, and patrons.
The impact of the crisis on Lebanese society is substantial with bleak repercussions on poor, near poor, and the middle classes. Close to 45 percent of Lebanese now live below the poverty line. Their situation is further aggravated by a fragmented and underfinanced social protection and a starved healthcare system, that is further exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19. Along with imposed illegal capital controls, devaluation of the Lebanese pound, inflation, salary cuts, and layoffs, the lockdown deeply threatens the livelihoods of the population. The gap between the need for immediate support and available resources and systems, is already considerable and increasing systematically.
In this context of rapidly deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, there is an urgent need for an immediate and multi-schemed response in the immediate, short, and medium terms. This response aims towards a more comprehensive response with an overarching vision to develop the national social protection system.
The Lebanese Government’s Financial Recovery Plan prioritizes fiscal health but falls short on the necessary measures to ensure safeguards against the social impact of the current economic crisis and pledged austerity.

More specifically:

  1. The government Plan hinges on austerity measures seeking to address fiscal health after decades of soaring debts but lacks a rights-based approach. Expectedly, these austerity measures encompass the depreciation of the national currency coupled with an increase of indirect taxation, significantly damaging the purchasing power of the population. It also rests on deferring overdue government arrears owed to the National Social Security Fund, which jeopardizes the healthcare and retirement benefits of private sector wage earners. In the same vein, the Plan stipulates the downsizing of the public sector wage bill, pension entitlements, and school allowances, among other measures which affect a large portion of the workforce. This not only implies increasing unemployment but also takes away one of the most, if not the most, important track towards social mobility. All of these measures directly contribute to the disenfranchisement of segments of the population.
  2. These austerity measures that are sine qua non to the success of the Government Reform Plan will exponentially increase poverty and vulnerability. Unfortunately, the Plan does not take into account the social impact of the economic crises and its planned austerity measures, and thus presents no actions that would mitigate the social impact of these measures. The Plan does not propose policies to compensate for the thousands of jobs for Lebanese nationals. It also does not provide any mitigation or compensation for the loss of savings in the NSSF or other security funds. It does not include any comprehensive policy solution targeting low and middle-income households and individuals so as to mitigate the expected income losses. The Plan is moreover missing any strategy regarding education, health, housing, and labor protection.
  3. Currently, the poverty targeting schemes that have gained momentum with the outbreak of Covid-19, are the only governmental anti-poverty response. However, targeted cash assistance can only be effective in reducing poverty when accompanied by universal social protection policies that encompass the population at large. Indeed, poverty targeting schemes and cash assistance only address the symptoms of poverty and inequality and fail to address the social and economic structures that reproduce them. While immediate social safety nets are needed, a universal approach is necessary in the medium to long term. Reforms to social protection policy should be designed in tandem with structural reforms, notably of the existing rentier economic model into a productive one, in order to ensure sustainable development and higher economic inclusion of marginalized groups in the future. With that, any engagement with the IMF or any other international donor counterpart, regarding the reform Plan should be accompanied by a Social Protection Policy Action Plan. The plan must consider the country’s recovery from a human centered approach, accounting for universal social protection and economic inclusion policies. It must be accompanied by an efficiently designed implementation plan. It is also worth noting that negotiations with the IMF should not precede exploring other alternative financing mechanisms (such as asset recovery) and ensuring strong governance systems so that financial resources are not drained in the same way they historically have been.

Drawing upon the above, we urge the Government of Lebanon to thoroughly consider the Expert Group Position paper: A Social Protection Emergency Response: A Bridge Toward a Comprehensive National Social Protection Plan.1

 

1. Available online: https://www.lcps-lebanon.org/agendaArticle.php?id=165 ; for endorsements: https://www.daleel-madani.org/civil-society-directory/lebanon-support/pr...

Publisher: 
N/A
Last modified: 
23/06/2020 - 3:45pm
Publishing Date: 
Tuesday, 23 June 2020
Intervention Sector(s): 
Advocacy & Awareness, Good governance and transparency, Health, Human Rights & Protection, Labor & Livelihoods, Relief Services
Scope: 
National
Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi
Léa Yammine
Lebanese Center for Human Rights
Mia Boukhaled
مشروع اللاجئون = شركاء
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