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Social protection and disability in Zambia

THE government of Zambia is concerned about the growth in inequality among its citizens, and has attacked the problem with a new social protection programme.
Implemented over the last two years, the basic social security provided by this programme has proven to be an effective way of improving the lives of the poorest.
Inequality gives rise to social conflict, and is detrimental to economic growth. Zambia has had a social protection programme since the country’s independence.
This programme has trained social workers who are now deployed in every part of the country. The national budget, however, has not found funding for basic social protection.
The government has an obligation to ensure social protection to all citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable to poverty and are socially excluded.
It undertakes this obligation in collaboration with the development society.
The importance of social protection in Africa today has been heightened because of the toll of the HIV and AIDS pandemic; volatile food prices, weather-related calamities, war and conflict, the global financial crisis and the erosion of the extended family system which has been traditionally the main source of social security system.
Social protection is a collection of measures to reduce poverty and foster economic growth. These measures target individuals, households, and communities to better manage the income risks that leave people vulnerable, increase access to basic services such as health or education and provide income stability.
Social protection can be regarded as a kind of insurance policy against poverty and a tool for delivering social justice as well as a means of promoting inclusive development.
It is an expression of solidarity and cohesion between the haves and have-nots, between governments and citizens and even between nations.
It can be delivered to those who need it through a variety of mechanisms, including unemployment benefits, pensions, child support, housing assistance, national health insurance, job-creation schemes, retraining programmes, agricultural insurance and more.
The main argument for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection is the clear interlink between poverty and disability, especially in developing countries where persons with disabilities are more likely to be poor, unemployed and have little or no access to education.
There are one billion persons with disabilities worldwide with an estimated 80 per cent living in developing countries.
Failing to include this numerous group into social protection schemes is not only problematic from a human rights point of view, but economically counterproductive for the development of societies as well.
There are fears among disability rights advocates that social protection might be considered as handouts that reinforce the common assumption of persons with disabilities as dependent, passive and unable to care for themselves.
But from a rights-based perspective, social protection measures are needed to achieve equalisation: social transfers can reduce vulnerability and enable greater participation in economic and social life.
By covering additional costs that incur as a result of a disability (for example assistive devices) social protection measures can help to overcome discriminatory barriers which persons with disabilities experience in society.
Social protection is not charity. It is a human-rights based tool to support people’s independence. Its main goal is empowerment and income stability.
It is both imperative that persons with disabilities are included in mainstream social protection schemes, and that targeted action is taken for disabled.
Social protection is not just about improving the capacity of people to cope with crises, but can indeed be a positive force in spurring poor people’s development and total national development.
Through the generation of increased productivity, the development of human capacity and building of voice and citizenship, it is one of the tools we must seek to embrace in order to bring marginalised groups into the mainstream of development.
Yet we should also recognise that despite the existence of various legal frameworks for protecting the rights of vulnerable persons, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, and ethnic minorities and other chronically poor, translating these noble intentions into actions still falls far too short of expectations. This is a political question for us all to focus on – not just a technical matter.
The linkage between poverty, vulnerability and economic and social rights is well documented.
Increasingly, poverty is being tied to the lack of access to equal opportunities, inequitable distribution of resources, and the marginalisation and disempowerment of certain groups – hence the need for social protection. Zambia cannot claim to be sensitive to human rights without it recognising and providing for the social protection for its most vulnerable groups.
The author is a disability rights advocate and a disabled person. E-mail: