On November 12, a round table was held on the welfare of families with children and effective state targeted social assistance, organized jointly by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus and UNICEF in Belarus with the support of the United Nations Joint SDG Fund. The event was attended by representatives of the government agencies and research organizations: the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the National Statistical Committee, the Ministry of Finance, the Scientific Research Institute of the Ministry of Economy, the Scientific Research Institute of Labour, as well as the World Bank and the UN agencies. The ultimate purpose of the roundtable was to inform the coming legislative revisions of the state Targeted Social Assistance (TSA) programme* through technical discussions (the new proposals on improving the TSA should be submitted to the Belarus Council of Ministers by end of 2021).
*For reference. The majority (around 90%) of TSA beneficiaries are families with children. A Decree of May 2020 enabled a longer period of the state TSA to multi-child families in the form of a monthly social benefit which is extended up to 12 months (before – 6 months), as well as its means-tested size increase from 100% to 115% of the minimum subsistence budget (MSB) per capita which is used to appoint such benefit (increased to 283.80 BYN, or 117.5 USD, from the amount of 246.78 BYN, or 102.1 USD). MSB is simultaneously a measure of poverty. These measures entered into force from September 1, 2020.
There are 1266.6 thousand households with children in Belarus. These households account for 4208.4 thousand people (45% of the country's population) and 1857.7 thousand children under 18 (20% of the country's population). According to Belstat, in 2020, the share of children living below the national poverty line (SDG indicator 1.2.1) reached a historic low of 9.1%. The decrease in the child poverty rate is taking place against the background of the growth in real incomes of families with children (in 2020, compared to 2015, it was 15%). However, the income gap persists for families with and without children. In 2020, families with children had an average of 14.4% fewer disposable resources than the national average. Due to the accelerated growth of incomes of large families, their gap to the average level of disposable resources is decreasing, but remains high - at 37%.
The roundtable participants also focused on the key risks of poverty, one of which is low wages: compared to families where adults earn at least two minimum subsistence budgets, the risk of poverty increases 3.2-fold if there is at least one low-paid worker in the household, and when all workers are low-paid - 30-fold. Compared to families with employed adults, the presence of at least one unemployed person increases the risk of poverty 2.5-fold, if all are unemployed - 4.7-fold. A larger number of children in a family increases the chances of slipping below the poverty line. Compared to a single-child family, the risk of poverty for families with 2 children is 6 times higher, families with 3 children - 20.7 times higher, for families with 4 children - 69.7 times higher. If a family receives child benefits, this reduces the risk of poverty 2.7-fold.
The multidimensional child poverty measures complement the concept of absolute poverty, reflecting the deprivations that a child faces in such key dimensions as health, education, living conditions, etc. The UNICEF in Belarus team presented at the round table the first measurement of the multidimensional child poverty indicator as a programmatic targeting tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the field of improving the well-being of children. The policy relevance of the multidimensional child poverty was proved through policy simulations of improving the social protection system coverage, including through expansion of the state targeted social assistance to families with children.
Thus, it became clear that the state targeted social assistance (TSA), expanded in 2020 to support large families during the pandemic, is an efficient tool to combat child poverty. A UNICEF study contributed to that decision by simulating the TSA payments to low-income families with children in the form of a minimum flat-rate amount. Estimates have shown that the cost of halving child poverty by 2030 can cost 0.3% of GDP annually, and that phasing out of inefficient utility subsidies is the most effective way to increase fiscal space for reducing child poverty.
During the discussions, the participants of the round table shared a commitment to the fundamental principle of the 2030 agenda “leaving no one behind” and reaching the most vulnerable first and the need to focus on children who live in conditions of multidimensional poverty, prioritizing the 6.2% of children who experience three or more deprivations in the field of health and nutrition, education and living conditions (Figure 1). At its core, the concept of multidimensional poverty reflects the importance of building integrated social protection and inter-sectoral collaboration in searching for solutions at the local level, including in Child and Adolescent Friendly Cities. It was noted that an important role in poverty reduction is given to the case management approach supporting families in difficult life situations. The first steps in piloting the approach in the country were made in previous years; in 2021, together with the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, a methodological guide was prepared for specialists of 146 Territorial Centers for Social Services for the Population (TCSSP), with trainings conducted for the professionals of the centers.
Figure 1. Visualization of the methodology applied to measure multidimensional child poverty
Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative to Belarus, thanked the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for efforts to improve state targeted social assistance in the interests of families with children. Ms Radocaj recalled the role of UNICEF in supporting governments around the world in shaping policies, designing and implementing social protection programmes: “One of the activities that all partners can benefit from while supporting the country in achieving the SDGs, could be to review the social protection system using an internationally recognized tool - a Core Diagnostic Instrument (CODI)”.
The roundtable participants agreed on the need to continue further work to improve the TSA and assess its performance in reducing child poverty in the COVID-19 environment, with further inter-sectoral work with the participation of Belstat in the joint validation of indicators and updating measurements of multidimensional child poverty. These steps will contribute to further improving social protection programs, following the overarching principle of the 2030 Agenda – leave no one behind and reach the furthest behind first.