Accepted paper:

Social protection in Nepal: a missed opportunity for change?


Neil Webster (Danish Institute for International Studies)

Paper short abstract:

Targeted or universal, social transformation or securing an old political settlement? Nepal is described as having a Scandinavian approach to social protection, but it also has intersecting inequalities, not least rooted in caste. Is social protection failing due to unintended outcomes?

Paper long abstract:

Social protection is emerging as a key state instrument to reduce social exclusion and inequality by providing safety nets to the most vulnerable households, targeting the socially excluded and challenging inter-generational poverty. When also linked to broader state-building, social protection can shape the social contract between citizen and state. It can be an instrument affecting relationships founded in identities based on gender, ethnicity, locality and caste, countering elite monopolisation of political, social and economic capital. However, if handled merely as a technical approach to the effects of exclusion and marginalisation, then social protection might be part of a political settlement that maintains the positions of political, economic and cultural elites. In 2013-14, 2.1 million persons in Nepal benefitted directly from government social protection programmes, for which NRs 10.5 billion (USD 100 million) were allocated. The potential for generating a new social contract rooted in more inclusive political institutions, welfare programmes that challenged inequality and poverty, and economic growth is considerable. Nepal is seen as having a Scandinavian approach to social protection yet it retains caste hierarchies that have a central role in deeply entrenched inequalities. Targeting as opposed to universal cash transfers in areas such as education, primary health care, pensions, is a contested subject amongst development partners. Unintended outcomes from the decisions being taken, are often being 'missed'. Is social protection itself becoming a missed opportunity?

panel F08
Creating and disrupting political settlements in unequal contexts: examining the roles of non-elites