Enhancing a country’s social protection system is one of a state’s most crucial objectives, given its role as an important driver of social, economic, and political stability. Governments are evaluated based on their achievements in the realm of social protection. The concept of social protection varies across different schools of thought and economic ideologies and theories. It is, therefore, important to note that the most comprehensive definition is rooted in the principles of Human Rights, fairness, and justice.
The “Social Protection Floors” initiative, put forward by the International Labour Organization around a decade ago, encapsulates this inclusive concept. It serves as a foundation for governments to redesign their social protection systems, ensuring they are comprehensive, just, equitable, and sustainable. This initiative encompasses integrated policies that guarantee a minimum level of social protection for all individuals, irrespective of their income or employment status. It aims to provide essential services and financial support, including access to basic healthcare and education, income security for the elderly and children, as well as adequate income for the working-age population, all in line with internationally agreed-upon social security standards.
This vision of social protection did not develop at random; it is based on logical foundations endorsed by the United Nations, drawn from global experiences and best practices. It recognizes social protection as a key to maintaining human dignity, an inherent Human Right. It is essential for enhancing the stability and sustainability of national economies, particularly during economic slowdowns. Social protection fosters social cohesion and stability; it plays a pivotal role in mitigating social inequalities and preventing potential unrest, as people feel assured that their basic needs are secured and that they are shielded from economic shocks.
Acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all model for social protection does not exist, any model should encompass certain core components. In Jordan, the National Social Protection Strategy for the years 2019-2025 was developed. It was intended to guide government when developing and updating its economic policies. This strategy urges the government to ensure a fair and just labor market, including social security guarantees, minimum wages in line with living standards, and parity between working conditions in the public and private sectors.
We note that the aforementioned strategy, which the Prime Minister called to be reviewed in the context of the Economic Modernization Vision, marked a significant step toward aligning it with the ILO recommendations on social protection floors. The strategy was built upon three primary pillars: decent work and social security, social assistance, and social services.
While the social assistance pillar has been expanded through substantial budget increases for the National Aid Fund due to the rise in the number of individuals in poverty, the other two pillars have demonstrably declined. This decline is attributed not only to the impact of reality and circumstances but also to the implementation of government policies that contradicted the direction outlined in the strategy.
In fact, policies contrary to the National Social Protection Strategy have been adopted. The government excluded some social security insurances for young people entering the job market until they reach the age of thirty. It refused to raise the minimum wage despite the tripartite committee recommendation to the opposite, and failed to make progress towards equalizing labor conditions between the public and private sectors. Moreover, poverty and unemployment rates have surged to unprecedented levels in recent years.
Similarly, the quality of public services, especially in healthcare and education, remains stagnant. This comes despite of the fact that National Social Protection Strategy mandates the government to provide comprehensive and high-quality basic services in education and healthcare.
In conclusion, enhancing social protection in its various dimensions is the cornerstone of any efforts towards economic reform. We must acknowledge that we have not achieved many goals of the National Social Protection Strategy, which has only one year and four months left out of its seven-year applicability. While the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have posed challenges to achieving its objectives, the primary obstacle lies in the fact that a significant portion of government policies contradicts the strategy and its indicators.