Social Protection Programme for Iraq: Leveraging Effective Response and Accelerating Reform

The overall objective of the joint programme is to ensure that by 2024, the vulnerable and the poor, including children, youth, women, elderly, informal workers, persons with disabilities and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq benefit from equitable access to an integrated social protection system.

ILO Team: Nathalie Both, Social Protection and Resilience Technical Officer, bothn@ilo.org; Mohammed Farman, Social Protection Officer, farman@ilo.org; Firas Alkaram, Project Assistant, alkaram@ilo.org

Background:

The social protection landscape in Iraq is characterised by relative fragmentation and ineffectiveness in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and preventing individuals from falling into poverty.

The social security system is composed of one for public sector workers and one for private sector workers. The public sector fund achieves almost universal coverage of the public sector labour force, but benefit levels are considered generous and are widely considered financially unsustainable. The fund for private sector workers covers a low share of the private-sector workforce and provides a limited range of benefits with employers remaining liable for maternity, work injury and disability, and no unemployment benefit.

There are two main social assistance programmes in Iraq, namely, the Public Distribution System (PDS), which provides food rations to almost all households in the country, and the Social Safety Net, a poverty-targeted conditional cash transfer which covers some 1.2 million Iraqi households. Both programmes face targeting challenges and coordination between them (and with the social security system) is considered weak.

Summary:

Within this context, a new European Union-supported programme has brought together the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Labour Organization (ILO), to support the Government of Iraq in reforming social protection and the effectiveness of its response to ongoing socio-economic shocks. The programme is being implemented with Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Trade.

The reform programme aims to support the expansion of social protection, and to reinforce capacities of federal and regional authorities to deliver quality child, age and disability sensitive, and gender responsive social protection programmes and services, fill in gaps and overlaps in social insurance and assistance, and make social protection schemes nutrition-sensitive. The UN agencies aim to align existing safety nets with the wider social protection system, complementing and strengthening government support.

Programme Objectives:

The overall objective of the joint programme is to ensure that by 2024, the vulnerable and the poor, including children, youth, women, elderly, informal workers, persons with disabilities and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq benefit from equitable access to an integrated social protection system.

This overarching objective is subdivided into four key objectives, on which the three UN agencies will work:
  1. Social protection reform is evidence-based and supported by policy coherence, effective coordination and enhanced institutional capacities;
  2. By 2024, pregnant women, under-5 and school age children from poor households benefit from equitable access to integrated social protection programmes and services;
  3. By 2024, young people, workers and their families – including those in the informal economy – have enhanced access to comprehensive social insurance and active labour market programmes, and the income security of older-persons and persons with disabilities is improved; and
  4. By 2024, vulnerable people will benefit from coordinated management of information systems and strengthened capacities of national and subnational institutions for improved design and targeting of social protection interventions.

Key ILO activities within the project:

The ILO’s activities within the project will aim to expand the scope and coverage of social insurance schemes and active labour market programmes. To achieve this, the ILO will focus on the following areas of work:
  1. Generate evidence to fill knowledge gaps and support decision-making with a focus on the Iraqi labour-force and the informal economy; the barriers to expanding social security coverage; and the capacity of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) to effectively deliver social security.
  2. Support legislative reform to expand the scope of social security provision, and align social security legislation with ILO Recommendation 102 on Minimum Social Security Standards.
  3. Strengthen capacity of MoLSA to effectively implement social security through support to institutional operations, IT infrastructure, human resources, and SOPs.
  4. Identify and implement innovative and inclusive approaches to addressing the demand-side barriers to social security coverage expansion, including in relation to awareness about rights and obligations, but also financial barriers.
  5. Strengthen coherence between social insurance and social assistance to achieve social protection floors – including through the establishment of a social pension - as well as linkages between social insurance and active labour market policies to promote decent work.