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BRIEFOctober 13, 2023

Frequently Asked Questions about the World Bank’s Support for Countries Towards Universal Social Protection

1. What is the World Bank’s position on universal social protection?

The World Bank is committed to the goal of universal social protection. This means ensuring access to social protection for all whenever and however they need it, through social safety nets, social insurance, labor, and economic inclusion programs. Social protection programs and systems are implemented in countries and by countries over time, and require long-term investment. Given fiscal constraints, many countries work on achieving universal social protection gradually, and make choices about how to most effectively utilize their scarce resources. The Bank’s social protection strategy, “Charting a Course Towards Universal Social Protection: Resilience, Equity, and Opportunity for All,” guides our work in helping countries define their priorities in progressing toward the vision for universal social protection.

2. What types of social protection programs does the World Bank support?

The Bank supports governments in the design and implementation of social protection programs, policies, and systems that are tailored to their country contexts and requirements. The goal is to help people manage the impacts of shocks and disasters, and promote jobs and income-earning opportunities through access to social safety nets, social insurance, labor, and economic inclusion programs. These interventions frequently prioritize support for women and vulnerable populations, and we have increased focus on building climate resilience as part of adaptive social protection systems.

3. How much financing does the World Bank provide for social protection programs in countries?

As of March 2023, the World Bank has committed $26 billion ($16 billion through IDA), helping 267 million people covered by social protection systems that adjust to needs. The portfolio covers over 70 countries, with digital delivery systems under development in at least 50 countries. Since Spring 2020, IDA, the World Bank fund for the poorest countries, has provided over $5 billion in new social protection financing for the COVID-response alone.

4. Does the World Bank utilize targeting in social protection programs?

Targeting is a tool used in social protection to maximize constrained fiscal space. The World Bank’s work over the last decade shows targeted interventions can effectively distribute limited resources to those who need them most. For a given budget, prioritizing poorer households can produce more progress on reducing poverty and inequality, supporting income, and other dimensions of welfare such as human capital. Countries use different targeting approaches to differentiate eligibility and benefits to fit programs to purpose within available financing envelopes. Many countries have multiple targeted programs, and nearly every country has at least one poverty targeted social assistance program. The decision on which targeting approach to use is always taken by the government. Context and policy objectives drive choices.

Regardless of the targeting approach, robust social protection delivery systems are important to minimize inclusion errors, reduce transaction costs for beneficiaries, facilitate crisis response, and improve access to social assistance, especially for the most vulnerable people including the poorest, indigenous communities, migrants, and people with disabilities.

5. Does targeting deter from the goal of universal social protection?

Targeted interventions and universal social protection are not mutually exclusive. In fact, targeted social protection interventions can play a valuable role in helping achieve universal social protection. Evidence shows that concentrating a greater share of benefits on the poorest people is more cost-effective than expanding coverage more broadly, leading to greater impacts and promoting human rights, equity, and inclusion.

While a universal social protection system is the ultimate goal, the reality is that because of limited resources, there is a need to focus those resources well and prioritize populations most in need. This involves improving and modernizing targeting methods, providing benefits for specific groups, and defining poor and vulnerable populations in each context.

Last Updated: Oct 13, 2023