Ethnic minority poverty reduction and social protection in Viet Nam

© United Nations Viet Nam\2010\Aidan Dockery

Supporting Ethnic Minority poverty reduction in Viet Nam

UNDP has supported the Government in efforts to tackle deep seated, chronic poverty amongst ethnic minority groups since the mid 1990’s, providing early support to the Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction (HEPR) programme, the Socio Economic Development in Ethnic Minority Areas (SEDEMA) programme (the so called Programme 135) and the National Target Programme for Poverty Reduction (NTP-PR). UNDP has provided close support to both the State Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA) and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) in developing and implementing these flagship programmes, and has played a key role in coordinating substantial international donor financing through targeted budget support to P135 in particular in the period 2006-2011.


  • UNDP support has been provided through a technical assistance project, which has added value to the national targeted programmes in a number of ways.
  • A National Social Protection Strategy for 2011-2020 as been drafted, with UNDP providing policy advice and technical support.

UNDP support has been provided through a technical assistance project, which has added value to the national targeted programmes in a number of ways. The TA projects have supported policy research, policy development, and training and other capacity building efforts including exposure of policy makers to new models and approaches in ethnic minority poverty reduction from countries such as India and China. Through the TA projects, new tools and modalities have also been developed to enhance the accountability, sustainability and participation of the programmes. Some notable examples in this regard include the use of Citizen Report Card surveys to feedback user perceptions on poverty reduction support delivered at the local level; training manuals in operation and maintenance for infrastructure investments and the allocation of dedicated budgets for O&M; training manuals and training in public participation for the P135; and the development of training manuals for the State Audit of Vietnam (SAV), to enable them to better carry out the innovative regular provincial audits that are conducted of the P135 (the only national programme that currently is audited by SAV).

UNDP also directly supported a baseline survey for the communes under P135 phase II, which was carried out in 2007. (See the report ‘Analysis of the P135-II Baseline Survey’). The data that resulted is probably the most comprehensive and highest quality dataset pertaining to ethnic minority wellbeing that exists in Viet Nam to date. The survey, which was carried out by the General Statistics Office (GSO) with UNDP technical assistance, has provided policy makers and researchers with critical objective information about ethnic minority poverty which has been critical in informing poverty reduction policy and decision making. UNDP has subsequently carried out further analysis of ethnic minority poverty dynamics using the data from the survey, through a Technical Assistance project with CEMA to develop capacity for ethnic minority policy making (the EMPCD project, running from 2008-2012). A follow-up UNDP survey to benchmark progress in ethnic minority development is planned for the latter part of 2011.

UNDP support has been instrumental in shaping the future directions for poverty reduction support in the country, particularly through two influential mid-term reviews of the poverty reduction programmes. The first, ‘Taking Stock, Planning Ahead: Evaluation of the National Targeted Programme on HEPR and P135’, in 2004 was a thorough evidence based analysis of all aspects of the programme, using tools such as beneficiary assessments and public expenditure tracking surveys to develop a robust and authoritative account of the efficacy and effectiveness of Government support to poverty reduction. This review report was instrumental in shaping the second phase of P135 for the period 2006-2010, suggesting many innovations that were subsequently adopted in the mainstream programme.

A second mid-term evaluation was conducted by UNDP into the national target programmes, published in 2009 as ‘A Mid-term Review of the National Targeted Programme for Poverty Reduction and Programme 135-II, 2006 - 2008’. This report, along with a parallel study conducted by UNDP and the National Assembly in 2008-09 into the architecture for poverty reduction policy in Viet Nam (see ‘A Mapping Exercise – Poverty Reduction Programmes and Policies in Viet Nam’) proved to be extremely influential in shaping the Government’s vision for the next phase of poverty reduction programming, culminating in the decision No. 80 of the Government, issued early in 2011, establishing a single poverty reduction framework for the future.

In launching Decision 80, MoLISA openly acknowledged the importance of the 2009 mid-term review report and subsequent policy discussions and advice from UNDP in shaping the Government’s vision for the future. The Resolution 80, in line with UNDP’s recommendations, ensures that future poverty reduction efforts will focus on the poorest ethnic minority areas with targets for poverty reduction set twice as high in these areas as the national average. This will ensure accelerated poverty reduction is a political priority. The Resolution also ensures that future poverty reduction support will be fully harmonized across programmes and ministries, ensuring better targeting and efficiency in line with the recommendations made in the UNDP policy studies. 

Developing a more inclusive social security system in Viet Nam

UNDP Viet Nam began to advocate for the development of a more inclusive and comprehensive social security system in 2005 with a research paper called 'Beyond Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction: A framework for an integrated national system of social security in Viet Nam’. This paper was the first to recognize the patchy and ad hoc nature of the many social protection policies being financed and implemented in Viet Nam. It took stock of the many social security policies and programmes at the time and noted the mix of poverty reduction support and social protection services in the national targeted poverty reduction programme. Importantly, the paper put forward general principles for a more comprehensive social security programme in Viet Nam.  

The paper generated extensive national debate and interest on the issue and as a result UNDP commissioned two other research papers. These two paper on ‘How Progressive is Social Security in Viet Nam?’ and ‘The Relationship Between Old Age and Poverty in Viet Nam’ were published in August 2007. The first of these papers used household survey data to examine who benefits from social security programmes and the overall impact on incomes and poverty reduction, looking at the whole population and the entire social security system, including health and social insurance, social guarantee funds and national poverty reduction programmes. The second paper dealt more specifically with elderly people and the pension system in Viet Nam. Both papers reached three main conclusions. First of all, that the Vietnamese social security system is regressive.  Secondly, that a greater number of poor groups receive education assistance and social welfare receipts than less poor groups. However, the opposite is true for pensions, with elderly people in richer households receiving more pension support than poor households. Thirdly, that the gains from transfers for people in the poorest income quintiles are reduced to zero by user-charges and spending on health and education.

These research findings and resulting policy recommendations triggered even further interest in the subject, both among national academics and policy makers who in general believe that social security in Viet Nam must be progressive.

Since the initial research, a series of UNDP-supported policy debates have been organized, including with key partners such as the National Assembly and the Communist Party’s Theoretical Council.

Together, these UNDP papers and research, and the following policy debates, have played a key part in making social security one of the top development priorities for the Vietnamese Government. The papers and debates have also greatly helped national partners identify ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the national targeted poverty reduction programmes in general and the delivery of social assistance and social protection in particular.

Social security is now high on the Government’s agenda, and features in the 2006-2010 Socio-Economic Development Plan, as well as the draft 2011-2020 Socio-Economic Development Strategy and draft 2011-2015 Socio-Economic Development Plan.

Furthermore, a National Social Protection Strategy for 2011-2020 has been drafted, with UNDP providing policy advice and technical support.

The draft strategy suggests a much more comprehensive and inclusive social protection system, especially for vulnerable groups. There is greater focus on ensuring active participation in the labour market and on poverty reduction, as well as dealing with the risks associated with unstable jobs and incomes, old age and natural disasters. Finally, the Government’s decision to embark on the development of a single, national, comprehensive poverty reduction framework offers a good opportunity to streamline poverty reduction and social assistance policies in a much more coherent and well-coordinated framework.       

"As Viet Nam continues to move towards middle-income country status, making sure that no one is left behind becomes increasingly important. Chronic poverty amongst ethnic minority groups, disparities and inequalities in wealth and access to opportunities and services need to be addressed. Key to this is a comprehensive and inclusive social protection system, along with a well focused and targeted poverty reduction programme addressing chronic poverty amongst ethnic minority groups. It is very encouraging to see that these issues are now so high and clear on the Government’s agenda. The work UNDP Viet Nam has done to support this effort clearly demonstrates what can be achieved through good quality research and active policy advocacy, involving national partners,” says Nguyen Tien Phong, head of the poverty unit at UNDP Viet Nam. 

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