Conclusions and the Way Forward

Social protection for persons with disabilities as presented in this report follows the structure and requirements of the Social Protection Floor (SPF) as layed out in Recommendation 202 of the ILO. At the same time, it has showed that social protection systems need to be well integrated into the broader policy framework beyond social protection policies. The 2030 Agenda and the CRPD both refer to complex inter-linkages of political objectives, which are particularly challenging in the case of disability policy.

For instance, the fact that persons with disabilities are often excluded from contributory social protection provided through formal labour testifies to the importance of including them in the implementation of SDG 8 and in CRPD Article 27, relating to decent work. Problems deriving from the lack of information and the inaccessibility of buildings and transport systems illustrates the need to implement SDG target 11.2, cited above, and Article 9 of the CRPD, which stipulates that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications”. The fact that social protection requires the existence of social services further emphasizes that it must be thought of as part of the wider development agenda. As mentioned earlier, health care and education are the subjects of SDGs 3 and 4, and of the CRPD Articles 24 and 25. It is possible to think of many additional components of the 2030 Agenda and of the CRPD that are necessary to enable social protection. 

The need to integrate social protection in the broader framework of social policies and implementation of the SDGs becomes especially clear with regard to children. Their social protection coverage must go beyond indirect coverage through their parents, to encompass early childhood care and education (goal 4.2) and closer monitoring for early childhood development (indicator 4.2.1 as mentioned above). Children with disabilities may be particularly exposed to the risk of not being registered at birth and of not being granted a legal identity, as provisioned by SDG target 16.9 and CRPD Article 18. Legal identity is a fundamental human right, and the basis for the fulfilment of a range of other civil, political, social and economic rights.[1]

Importantly, ensuring the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the realization of the 2030 Agenda will require that disability is defined in a way that takes into account social and environmental factors in addition to medical ones. Such an interactive definition is enshrined in the CRPD, and its application is facilitated by the ICF. The fact that disability is often defined on the basis of the medical model and/or coupled with work inability excludes many of those whose disabilities are in part related to social or environmental factors, or who are able to work but who nevertheless face such high disability related costs that they live in poverty.

The limited inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection systems measures often results from deficits in the implementation of other provisions of the 2030 Agenda and the CRPD, as shown by the examples in the previous section. However, ensuring that persons with disabilities in the Arab region have access to social protection will equally be necessary to fulfil other commitments, such as bringing poverty and hunger to an end as well ensuring healthy lives - the subjects of SDGs 1, 2, and 3 and CRPD Articles 25 and 28. Social protection could also give families the means or incentives needed to send children with disabilities to school, which would help fulfil SDG 4 and CRPD Article 24. However, social protection will only fill these functions if it is adequate – that is, if CTs are sufficiently generous to compensate for disability related costs, and if health services are adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities.

Social protection can play a role in fulfilling another provision of the 2030 Agenda and the CRPD: decent work for all. There is compelling evidence showing that cash transfers often enable the poorest to take up employment, for instance by allowing them to pay for transport costs associated with commuting.[2] However, questions may be raised about whether social protection measures in the region presently serve to encourage labour force participation of persons with disabilities. The fact that disability status for the purpose of eligibility determination is frequently based on work inability may reinforce the conception that having a disability is not reconcilable with partaking in the labour market. When confronted with the choice between, on the one hand, receiving cash grants, and, on the other hand, joining the work force, persons with disabilities may wish to take up employment as it facilitates their social integration. However, they may also be compelled to choose the benefit if the job on offer does not pay as well as the benefit or is of uncertain duration. This risks creating an incongruity between, contributory social and health insurance, which is contingent upon work, and social assistance provided free of charge, which is contingent upon inability to work. Social protection systems need to foster the shift from the “not able to work” approach towards ‟social participation”.[3]

There are examples of social protection programmes in the Arab region being shaped to stimulate rather than discourage labour force participation among persons with disabilities, e.g. the public works programme in Mauritania. CTs provided in the United Arab Emirates are commensurately reduced – rather than immediately suspended – when the beneficiary has another source of income.[4] The positive potential effect of this is that no financial disincentive to take up work paying less than the value of the grant is created. The country also provides job training for social assistance beneficiaries with disabilities.[5] In Saudi Arabia, similarly, job training is provided to persons with disabilities, and those who undergo such training receive a monthly financial support.[6]

Social protection thus has the potential to further the individual autonomy and independence of persons with disabilities – one of the main principles of the CRPD. It can do so both directly, by giving persons with disabilities the means to live independently, or indirectly, for instance by stimulating labour force participation allowing and encouraging persons with disabilities to earn an income from work, also by facilitating work place adaptations and accessibility of buildings. However, it is arguably problematic that benefits are often targeted at the household level rather than at the individual one, or to those deemed to be the “providers” or “caretakers” of persons with disabilities rather than to persons with disabilities themselves. Thus, it appears that the focus is not so much on enabling the individual independence and autonomy of persons with disabilities, but rather on easing the burden they supposedly impose on their families.

[1] Dahan and Gelb, 2015.

[2] Hanlon and others, 2010, pp. 73-76.

[3] International Labour Office and International Disability Alliance, 2015, p. 8.

[4] United Arab Emirates, 2017.

[5] United Nations Commitee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, 2014, p. 48.

[6] United Nations Commitee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, 2015b, p. 51.