Social Assistance and Successful Advocacy in Georgia: A social protection case study | Social Protection

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  Social Assistance and Successful Advocacy in Georgia A Social Protection Case Study Written by Jane Beesley and edited by Carol Brady and Nupur Kukrety  This derelict and crumbling ex-soviet apartment block is home to thirteen displaced families. Photo: Caroline Berger   Oxfam’s social protection project began in Georgia in 2005. Oxfam worked with the Association of Young Economists of Georgia (AYEG) to gather information about household poverty levels, and to advocate for change in the government’s social aid system. This system - income support (cash transfers) and free health care – was previously failing to reach some of the country’s poorest people. Through monitoring, research and advocacy, AYEG and Oxfam were able to influence social policy, and as a result, the poorest and most vulnerable people’s access to state benefits. Adjustments were made to the scoring methodology, as a consequence of this work, which resulted in an additional 34,000 families being included in the national social assistance system. The Bac kground Georgia, a lower middle-income country with a population of 4.5 million, gained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A period of unrest followed, including a civil war lasting nearly three years. Disputed parliamentary elections in 2003, internationally recognised to be marred by fraud, led to massive anti-government protests in most major towns and cities in Georgia. This peaceful ‘Rose Revolution’ brought about the election of a new government in 2004. Despite steady economic growth since 2004, living standards have failed to improve. Relationships with neighbouring Russia have been tense. In 2008, military conflict broke out when Russian troops intervened in Georgia’s ongoing territorial dispute with South Ossetia. The cost of Georgia’s military has been a big drain on the national budget – the Ministry of Defence is the government’s biggest spender. The conflicts of 1992 and 2008 led to the introduction of expensive resettlement programmes, with the relocation of over 300,000 people from the conflict affected areas. The economy also suffered from the loss of export trade to Russia, previously one of Georgia’s biggest trade partners, mainly in agricultural produce. This has delivered a significant blow to the local economy, as 54 percent of Georgia’s population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Inflation has reached 15 percent, which disproportionately harms those with fewer resources. A large percentage of people remain poor. Officially a third of the population live in poverty, with 15 percent of these living in ‘extreme poverty’. Civil society organisations, however, claim that these numbers are a fraction of the real picture, and have been slashed to portray government progress. The same is true, these groups claim, with unemployment figures. While the official unemployment rate stands at 12.6 percent, many experts argue that real figure is dramatically higher, up to 60 percent in rural areas. Georgia’s economic liberalisation has deepened inequalities. There is a clear divide between urban and rural dwellers in terms of access to resources, essential services and opportunities. In 2007, an average of 87 percent of beneficiaries’ income was spent on food, medicine and medical services alone. 1 Oxfam has been working in Georgia since 1993 in various interventions, initially working with humanitarian programmes to assist Internally Displaced People (IDPs), but later focusing on development programmes in health, livelihoods, Disaster Risk Reduction, and institutional accountability. Since 2002, Oxfam has been focusing on a governance programme that works with communities to develop their understanding of democratic processes and practices and to build their capacity to take part in democratic local governance. These initiatives included training communities to understand, analyse and monitor budgets and to understand their civic rights. As a result of Oxfam’s work, public budget monitoring committees were set up. These committees were designed to both regularly track local budgets and to present community priorities to local government to influence spending. To complement this work, Oxfam worked with local government officials, strengthening their understanding of the responsibilities that they hold and the legal environment in which they operate. Rationale for implementing a social protection programme  Although market liberalisation and globalisation of trade has boosted economic development in Georgia, it has also widened the gap between the rich and poor and between men and women. Existing protective measures, such as public welfare and redistributive mechanisms, have been inadequate in the face of rising income inequalities. In the post-soviet era, Georgia inherited a category based targeting social aid system. 4  In this context, people received social aid according to their household status, for example as IDPs, the chronically ill or people Reversing extreme inequality is a key strategy in overcoming poverty and suffering, enabling rights, and achieving social justice. 2   Well-designed social protection programmes can allow people that are in transitory poverty 3  to seize opportunities created by economic growth and at the same time, protect such individuals and households from falling back into poverty. This support is especially important for enabling poor women to overcome the multiple barriers that they face in participating and leading in economic and political life. Oxfam’s Programme Policy Guidelines on Social Protection  with disabilities, rather than based on their household need. In 2005 the Government introduced a new social aid system, under the management of the newly created Social Services Agency – (SSA), which sits within the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs. Under the new social aid system, state assistance was to be distributed according to need. The SSA was charged with identifying beneficiaries and implementing a new targeting methodology. However, the changes made and targeting strategies employed were problematic and failed to reach thousands of people. The new social aid system identified poor households by looking at their living conditions and registering them on an electronic database, which made them eligible for social-aid, income support (cash transfers), and free health care from the state. Eligibility was determined by a poverty indicators points system. Despite being hailed as a success by the government and donor agencies, the targeting methodology was, at times, flawed. For Oxfam, working in some of the most deprived regions of Georgia, it was clear that the programme was not reaching some of the poorest people. As a result of these concerns, Oxfam together with its local partner – the Association of Young Economists of Georgia (AYEG), set up a project to monitor the impact and implementation of the social aid programme in three regions. The findings showed that many families, living in poverty, were not receiving the social aid they were entitled to. This was due to complicated and often subjective criteria, differences in seasonal income and local misconceptions about programmatic processes. They also found that, due to a lack of monitoring at local level, a large number of deceased people’s social assistance was still being claimed. Oxfam’s work on social protection coincides with its ongoing governance programme as well as other development programmes, including livelihoods work and access to better health care. Opportunities The key opportunities arose predominantly from an institutional environment of change and reform in the country, together with the partnership of an effective and competent local organisation. ã  The government had wanted to lift the country out of poverty, implementing social policies based on need. While the government was difficult to influence initially, it was equally keen to demonstrate to the international community its commitment to reform. ã  The government had addressed a number of key challenges, for example, removing administrative corruption and improving revenue collection. ã  The government’s category based targeting programme was new. This meant that a certain degree of alterations and ‘tweaking’ was to be expected. ã  There was clear willingness from the Ministry and the SSA to collaborate with the non-governmental sector. The project centred on participation from the state, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and beneficiaries. ã  New and open minded government officials helped to take the agenda forward. ã  SSA staff were highly motivated and had a genuine interest in bringing positive change for poor people but lacked resources and capacity to monitor the system. ã  Oxfam, together with AYEG, had a unique opportunity to support capacity building and ensure institutional ‘buy in’ to the new system. ã  The new political environment in 2005 allowed space for advocacy opportunitiesThese external factors enabled AYEG and Oxfam to seize the opportunity to influence decision making at all levels. Furthermore, AYEG, as economists, had the skills and knowledge to contribute and manage the sampling, presentation and budgetary aspects of this project.Oxfam’s policy and advocacy work focused on working with key people who were open to change, and levered, where possible, the government’s stated ambition for development and poverty reduction. Challenges ã  To be perceived as non-political in a highly politicised society ã  To maintain consistency in advocacy work, in an environment of quick and dramatic reformThe Kobalias, a family of ten and refugees from  Abkhazia, live in poverty in the village of Pakhulani. The family includes two elderly people, in need of health care, and two students, studying at the Tbilisi State University. Tuition fees have doubled the family’s total expenditure, already stretched to breaking point on food and health care expenses. Despite having applied for, and been awarded state assistance, the family decided to refuse the benefits available. An AYEG team member visited the family and discovered why. The family was afraid that as a result of participation in the State Social Assistance Programme (SSAP), they would no longer be considered as IDPs. “IDPs are waiting for EU (European Union) assistance, and they say that the people receiving assistance from the state won’t be entitled to EU assistance”.The AYEG interviewer was able to clarify that receiving state benefits would not negate their IDP claims. As a result, the family were able to access much needed financial assistance, health care and energy vouchers. 5
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