Speech by UNDP Country Director, Ms. Louise Chamberlain at MOLISA event–Social Assistance Reform to 2025

19 Jul 2014

Date:     19 July 2014
Event:   MOLISA event–Social Assistance Reform to 2025
Venue:   Melia Hotel

Mr. Nguyen Manh Hung, Vice Chairman of the National Assembly Committee for Social Affairs
Mr. Nguyễn Trọng Đàm, Vice Minister of MOLISA
Representatives from the National Assembly
Development partners, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a privilege and a pleasure for me to address you this morning in the policy dialogue on the Master Plan for Social Assistance Reform. UNDP and the wider United Nations family in Viet Nam are very pleased to support  the Government  in formulating a clear vision for country reform to promote enhanced Social Protection as an instrument for inclusive and sustainable development.

The UN strongly welcomes the Government’s commitment to the reform process, as first outlined in Party Resolution 15 and now seeing renewed focus on strategy and delivery, signaled by development of the Master Plan. We are greatly encouraged by Vice Minister Dam’s remarks which make clear the Government’s intention to modernize and strengthen the Social Assistance System, and to root reform proposals in the acceleration of poverty reduction and in building resilience to risks and vulnerabilities.  

These commitments and actions are very timely.  Improved social protection, in which social assistance reform is major part, has become an essential component of a new global policy consensus, is underpinned by Human Rights commitments, and certain to figure within the Post-2015 goals framework.  Reforms also have a particular relevance for lower middle countries like Viet Nam, in prioritizing and embarking on policies for inclusive development and reaching the most vulnerable segments of society.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Many countries have experienced how reforming and modernizing social assistance played a key role in ensuring accelerated and sustainable development.  Indeed, successful reform of social protection systems has been and remains an part of the successful development path of many high-income countries.

It is important to take note of the transition that countries generally undergo at the middle-income stage, both in terms of the development needs and the character of social protection provision, progressing from one of responding to emergencies and delivering relief to the poor, to one of building resilience to risks over the human life cycle and ensuring a minimum standard of living for all citizens.

It is also important to note that decisions on the strategic direction and vision that are made now, at the outset of the reform, will shape the future system some 20-30 years from now.  Analysis of the changing needs and context, and identification of the shortcomings of the current system are important.  But so too is building on effective current policies in Viet Nam, learning from international best practice, and adapting and applying solid theoretical foundations in formulating the strategic direction.

I would like to briefly comment on two often-articulated arguments against progressive social assistance reform: first that social assistance would lead to dependency; and second that budget constraints limit the expansion of coverage and benefit levels. The first is a myth, there is little evidence that wider coverage and transfers that secure basic minimum standards of living would lead to harmful incentives. Instead, Social Protection rather helps vulnerable individuals and families in managing risk, and the evidence points to greater productivity and pro-poor economic growth as a result of this investment in human capital.
We will hear more today about the supporting evidence for this from Dr. Stephen Kidd and the interesting analytical work that his organisation has delivered.

As for financial resources, it is vital that fiscal constraints are taken into account, but also to bear in mind the economic gains of improved social assistance.  By reducing risks and boosting investment, by promoting social cohesion and productivity, and by acting as an automatic stabilizer during times of recession, these policies can make a major contribution to economic growth. 

I am certain that balancing these benefits and costs will resonate well in the Vietnamese context where accelerated and inclusive growth remains a chief priority, and underpin a new growth model rooted in a more dynamic and productive economy. A modern system of social transfers will offer vulnerable people in Viet Nam a safety net and a ladder out of deprivation, to ensure their active participation in the economy and secure their inclusion in society.

Lastly, let me also express our appreciation for the Government’s commitment to ensure that the preparation of the Master Plan is consultative and to actively engage with different Government and international development partners as well as beneficiaries of current policies.  A consultative and inclusive process is important for all stakeholders, but it is particularly important that current beneficiaries can contribute to framing the future vision and strategic direction to ensure effectiveness of the new Plan.

As UNDP we look forward to assisting the Drafting Team under the leadership of MOLISA, with various technical inputs, including studies, analytical tools and capacity development support, to deliver an evidence-based Master Plan.  

I close by underscoring how central social assistance policy reform is to the United Nation’s mission in Viet Nam. Already the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 affirmed that everyone has a right to decent standard of living, access to essential social services, and protection from difficult circumstances beyond their control.

By now, several UN agencies including UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNWOMEN and ILO have made longstanding and complementary contributions in this field, such as the Social Protection Floor Initiative, child-sensitive social protection service delivery, and the strengthening of social assistance and social insurance pillars.  As a joint UN team we remain committed to help bring about effecting progressive reforms that are fit for their purpose.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much again for listening, and I look very much forward to a very interesting discussion today.

Xin Cam on.