Social Protection Project Strengthens Safety Net for Poor


Efforts to safeguard the welfare of indigents, and other persons in need of public assistance, have been boosted by the Government’s implementation of the Social Protection Project.
The initiative aims at enhancing Jamaica’s social protection framework, by expanding the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
Project Director for PATH, Dunstan Bryan, tells JIS News that since its introduction in 2005, it has replaced three social assistance programmes; the old age and incapacitated programme, the food stamp programme and the poor relief programme.
Mr. Bryan says the administration negotiated funding for the project from the World Bank in June 2008, for US$40 million. The initiative was subsequently rolled out last October.
He explains that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s Public Assistance/PATH Project Unit at National Heroes Circle, Kingston, has responsibility for administering the project.
The facility seeks to enhance PATH’s effectiveness, to enable families falling below the poverty line to: improve their status; develop a structured system of assistance for working age beneficiaries of PATH households to seek and retain employment through the Steps-to-Work programme; and strengthen the Ministry’s capacity to implement same.
Additionally, he points out that the project is intended to facilitate the formulation of a reform programme for the public sector pension scheme, as well as develop an overall holistic social protection programme for targeted stakeholders.
He explains that under the first component – improving PATH’s effectiveness, the project finances grants to assist children aged 0-18 years, pregnant mothers and the elderly and disabled.
Regarding the Steps-to-Work programme, Mr. Bryan says this component aims to provide working age members of PATH households, with opportunities to re-engage themselves with the labour force, through skills development, training, entrepreneurial activities and literacy.
“It is aimed at ensuring that persons seek and retain employment. So all members of working age households are given an opportunity to link to specific state agencies that provide the services, as they relate to entrepreneurship, skills development training, and literacy,” Mr. Bryan outlines.
He advises that the Steps-to-Work Programme is currently being undertaken as a pilot in Kingston, St. Andrew, Clarendon, St. James, Trelawny, and Manchester. The remaining components are being administered by two other Government agencies, which are lending support.
The Ministry of Finance and the Public Service is spearheading implementation of improvements in the administration of the public sector pension systems, and the building of capacity for the attendant reform process.
The target beneficiaries are public sector pensioners, who are expected to enjoy improved service delivery for their pension payments.
The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) spearheads development of a holistic social protection strategy, which is consistent with the objectives of the administration’s Vision 2030 plan for Jamaica.
Vision 2030 is Jamaica’s first 25-year development plan, and aims to position the nation to achieve developed country status by 2030. Its comprehensive vision seeks to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
“So this component really supports technical advice and assistance to the Planning Institute of Jamaica, for the development of a holistic social protection programme to achieve the goals of the Vision 2030,” he outlines.
Explaining how individuals qualify for assistance under the Social Protection Project via PATH, Mr. Bryan explains that persons are selected based on a Beneficiary Identification System (BIS), which utilises a proxy means test to ascertain the poverty status of households. This test is administered twice, firstly on the basis of information provided at the time of the application, and again during verification visits by social officers attached to the Ministry.
Mr. Bryan tells JIS News that the test focusses on two primary areas – household status, inclusive of the status of amenities, such as toilet facilities, electricity, and water; the number of occupants therein, and the type of structure that obtains. The other, he adds, focusses on the achievements of members of the household, including the educational status of the head of the family.
“After the score is determined, it is compared with the cut-off score for beneficiary assessment,” he says.
Those who fall below the cut-off score are selected for PATH, while those above the cut-off score are included in the BIS for a benefit,” he says. Beneficiaries include children 0-18 years old, pregnant and lactating mothers, the elderly, disabled, and indigent adults.
Mr. Bryan says that, since its inception in 2002, PATH has enjoyed considerable success. This is reflected in the impact assessment done on the project, which highlighted increased attendance at schools by PATH-beneficiary children. There has also been an increase in the number of children, 0-18 months, attending health clinics resulting in improved immunisation of these toddlers.
“Since 2005, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has embarked on a programme of improvement in the delivery of services in the PATH project. The major enhancement of PATH, in that regard, therefore, is the introduction of differentiated payment scheme, which is based on ensuring the continued improvement of PATH children in high schools, where there has been a reported increase in the level of absenteeism,” he states.
Mr. Bryan informs that a focus area being targeted for improvement, is the proposed increase in the number of beneficiaries being registered to 360,000. As at June this year, the number of persons registered stood at 316,000.
“Within this financial year, the project is to increase the number of beneficiaries, by at least 58,000. In this year’s budget, PATH has been provided with $3 billion, which…(should be) adequate for the scaling up of the project to ensure that the registration of 360,000 beneficiaries can be achieved,” he outlines.
During 2008/09, PATH received $2.2 billion from the Budget, which Mr. Bryan explains was used to effect the payment of cash transfers to beneficiary households; complete development of a management information system, to improve the tracking and disbursement of cash payments to beneficiary households; as well as enhance compliance data collection and service delivery to clients.
The allocation was also used to implement a recertification exercise for PATH households, who have been registered for over four years. This exercise is slated to be completed by the end of this month.
Mr. Bryan also advises of plans to enhance the Steps-to-Work programme, on successful completion of the pilot phase in July 2010. Additionally, work on the legislative framework for the implementation of the public sector pension scheme is anticipated to commence by 2011, with the submission of a White Paper to Cabinet.
Commenting on challenges arising in the programme’s implementation, Mr. Bryan says that chief among these has been non-compliance of PATH-beneficiary students to attend school regularly. PATH, he explains, stipulates that students benefitting must record at least an 85 percent attendance record at school, in order to be deemed compliant.
He points out, however, that, invariably, constraints on households result in the children not being able to attend school regularly.
“The programme has recognised a myriad of different challenges faced by the families that have contributed to heightened rates of non-compliance in education. Chief among these is transportation (costs) and other (expenses) associated with the livelihood of the families. Other factors, (include the) attitude towards education by children in the higher age cohort,” he says.
The Project Director says that despite these challenges, persons will still be subject to sanctions, primarily the withholding of benefits. He was quick to point out, however, that the Ministry tries to ensure that the matter does not get to this point.
“The Ministry has had an increase in its active surveillance of families through the social workers. We are increasing our social work visits to families, to ensure that once we see children having high rates of non-attendance at schools, intervention is done. It is further hoped that implementation of differentiated payments will assist families to reduce the level of non-compliance,” he states.
Some shortcomings, which Mr. Bryan says arose previously, include what he describes as a major gap in the intervention measures, where the sustainability of the family unit was not adequately addressed. As such, he says the Steps-to-Work programme is being consolidated at that level.
“We mean that before the Steps-to-Work intervention, the working age members of the family were not addressed by PATH at all. Therefore, once the child graduated from the secondary school system, they were no longer eligible for a payment. With the Steps-to-Work, we are hoping to increase the impact of the project by ensuring that the working age family members gain and retain employment,” he explains.
There are several areas of the programme, which Mr. Bryan says are being reviewed with a view to enhancing their provisions. One such, he highlights, is the compliance requirement at the early childhood level.
“The Ministry of Labour is in dialogue with the Early Childhood Commission to augment the existing policy direction of the Government, as it relates to early childhood education. This will be done by instituting a compliance requirement for the registration of children in PATH households, who are at the required age for early childhood institutions. The age being looked at is between four and six years, which is the age when children are registered in early childhood institutions such as basic schools, and infant schools,” he informs.
Another undertaking which Mr. Bryan says the Ministry hopes to launch during the current fiscal year, is increased registration of pregnant and lactating mothers within PATH households.
“We are currently undertaking a study to determine the reasons why persons in this category are not receiving the benefits, and to craft the appropriate communications strategy to reach this population, so as to increase the number which receives benefits.
“This is critical, because the health and nutrition of women who are pregnant or lactating, has a direct relationship to the health and well-being of the child. Therefore, if we can reach the household member who is pregnant and lactating at this stage, then we can do the necessary adjustments and interventions, to ensure the health of the mother and the child,” he outlines.
Mr. Bryan says the Ministry, in collaboration with the PIOJ, is undertaking a review of the Beneficiary Identification System, with a view to effecting adjustments as regards to data on poverty in Jamaica. That adjustment was done to capture more data on the dynamics of poverty in urban centres, which has resulted in more individuals in these areas being selected for PATH benefits. Additionally, further assessments are being done to address other categories, such as the elderly poor, and disabled who live alone.
Regarding the indigent in rural areas, Mr. Bryan tells JIS News that the latest statistics provided by the Jamaica Social Survey of Living Conditions indicate that this category of individuals is adequately represented in the PATH spread.
“Therefore, the adjustment in the BIS is to address an under representation of the urban poor in the registration of PATH beneficiaries,” he adds.
In the long run, Mr. Bryan says the overall expectations are for persons currently on PATH, to achieve economic stability and self-sufficiency.
“We expect that for both categories of individuals, urban and rural poor, there will be a reduction, a trend downwards in the number of beneficiaries registered to PATH,” Mr. Bryan states.

JIS Social