There is now a substantial body of evidence about the positive effects of social protection and labour programmes on core dimensions of wellbeing, such as food consumption and access to health and education. Increasingly, attention has also been given to social protection’s wider ‘transformative’ role of contributing to social inclusion and empowerment. Yet we have relatively limited knowledge about the ability of these programmes to tackle the structural causes of social exclusion and poverty or to promote sustainable changes in the lives and livelihoods of the poor, as well as limited evidence on the extent to which these structural drivers of poverty affect programme outcomes.
This paper aims to help fill this empirical gap by drawing on the findings from four country case studies that examined the role of social protection and labour programmes in promoting social inclusion: life skills education and livelihoods training (Adolescent Reading Centres (ARCs) for young women in Afghanistan); asset transfers (the Chars Livelihoods Project (CLP)) in the Chars and a food transfer programme (Vulnerable Group Development (VGD)) in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh; the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) health insurance programme in India; and the Child Grant cash transfer in Karnali region in Nepal.
The research used a social exclusion framework to guide design and analysis. The concept of social exclusion emphasises the multiplicity of dimensions of wellbeing; it also shows the need to understand processes that result in deprivation and marginalisation. Its application to social protection enables the assessment of policy interventions in terms of their effects on both wellbeing outcomes and the economic, social and institutional drivers that cause social exclusion and poverty. Therefore, it allows us to contextualise the effects of policy interventions and understand the extent to which their effects can be transformative, that is, far-reaching and sustainable.