Bangladesh's expenditure in social protection is the lowest in South and Southwest Asia and this poor safeguard system is hampering the resilience to Covid-19, according to a new report.
The level of social protection expenditure in Bangladesh is only 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic products (GDP), the UN report said.
Iran spends the highest 10.1 per cent of its GDP on social protection, followed by Turkey 9.9 per cent, Sri Lanka 5.2 per cent, India 3.2 per cent, the Maldives 2.9 per cent, Nepal 2.1 per cent, Pakistan 1.9 per cent and Bhutan 1.0 per cent, according to the report.
The report titled 'The Protection We Want: Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific,' jointly produced by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was published on October 15.
The report highlighted the need for well-functioning social protection systems, placing it at the centre of an increased national resilience against economic shocks.
Levels of public expenditure on social protection, excluding health are too low to be effective in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, it said.
Despite rapid socioeconomic ascent, most countries in the Asia-Pacific region have weak social protection systems riddled with gaps, it revealed.
It said that about half of the region's population had no social protection coverage and only a handful of countries had comprehensive social protection systems with relatively broad coverage.
"The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of well-designed, implemented and coordinated social protection systems in protecting people throughout their lives and promoting their wellbeing,' the report said.
The pandemic has also shown that social protection should be a right for all, rather than a privilege for a few.
The ESCAP estimates indicate that an economic contraction of 5.0 per cent could increase the Asia-Pacific poverty headcount at the international poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50 per day by approximately 93 and 90 million people, respectively.
In a more extreme scenario, an economic contraction of 20 per cent could increase the Asia-Pacific poverty headcount by around 414 million people at the $3.20 per day line and by 381 million people at the $5.50 per day line, it said.
"The initial studies in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka found that the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced average incomes across the whole income distribution and women were being disproportionately impacted by the crisis," it said.
The report identified that the reliance on out-of-pocket payments can result in catastrophic health expenditure.
In Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Georgia, the Maldives and Tajikistan, more than 1 in 20 households spend more than 25 per cent of their total income on health, it said.
"The lack of access to affordable health care is leaving individuals without treatment and households vulnerable to falling back into poverty," according to the report.
According to its findings, most poverty-targeted schemes fail to reach the poorest families and poverty-targeted schemes commonly miss half of intended beneficiaries.
It showed that in Bangladesh, 59.4 per cent of eligible people for selected poverty-targeted social protection programmes remained excluded due to the inaccurate targeting.
Overall, South and Southwest and Southeast Asia have a significantly lower level of coverage.
However, there is a large variation among countries. Iran, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam all have relatively comprehensive contributory social protection systems.
Cambodia, Laos and Timor-Leste have more recently established contributory social protection schemes.
"On the other hand, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia, and Malaysia and Singapore in Southeast Asia, have historically focused on employer liability and mandatory savings through, for example, provident funds," it added.
"The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the precarious situation of many working women and men and especially those in the informal economy," said Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, regional director for Asia and the Pacific.
"There is a clear need for further investment in public social protection systems if we are to avoid the stagnation of social and economic progress made across the region in recent decades," she added.