Social Protection in VietnamAfter the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnam embarked on a remarkable economic and social transformation, becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. Many communities in Vietnam, nevertheless, still face poor living standards and social insecurity. Subsequently, social protection in Vietnam began gaining traction in hopes of supporting the country’s growing socioeconomic status. Over the past two decades, Vietnam’s social protection initiatives and programs have produced varying successes and failures. 

Social Protection in Vietnam

While Vietnam is a middle/upper middle-income country undergoing rapid socioeconomic development, social protection programs are still crucial to tackling relative poverty, social exclusion and increasing inequality. According to a 2019 World Bank report, the three main priorities of social protection are social insurance, social and welfare assistance and labor market programs.

Social protection aims to provide a safety net for individuals and households, protecting them from various risks and vulnerabilities. By addressing issues related to education, employment, health care, social welfare and poverty reduction, social protection in Vietnam seeks to enhance public well-being and quality of life and promote social cohesion within societies.

Successes and Achievements

Reports from the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Bank note rising access to social protection in Vietnam, such as education, health care, housing for the poor and disadvantaged, safe water, improved infrastructure, emergency relief, education and more.

The following are some of Vietnam’s developments in social protection:

  • Vietnam created the Employment and Vocational Training program, which provided jobs for about 320,000 individuals. 
  • Additionally, Vietnam Bank has lent micro-credit to more than 8.4 million people, mainly the poor and financially vulnerable.
  • The nation’s universal health insurance scheme currently covers 87% of the population, improving the quality of life for Vietnamese citizens. 
  • As of 2019, 99.4% of the population mainly relied on electricity as their main lighting source.
  • From 1993 to 2020, access to clean water in rural areas expanded from 17% to 51%. 
  • The nation boasts the second-highest average duration of (learning-adjusted) schooling among Southeast Asian countries at 10.2 years and achieves the highest human capital index of 0.69 among lower-middle-income economies, due to improved access to education. 

At the beginning of 2022, The Vietnamese Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began constructing a climate governance system, highlighting the country’s commitment to addressing climate change. The focus on streamlined policies, budgeting processes and climate finance planning demonstrates a proactive approach to achieving climate goals. The recognition of international support, including expertise, technology transfer and climate finance, showcases Vietnam’s determination to accelerate its green transition and ensure the sustainability of social protection in Vietnam.

Barriers and Challenges

Vietnam faces challenges due to the independent design and implementation of social protection and social insurance systems, resulting in coverage gaps, fragmentation and insufficient benefits. Consequently, Vietnam’s current social protection system fails to adequately protect children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Many medical facilities in Vietnam operate under poor-resourced conditions: outdated facilities, chronic overcrowding and inadequate medical equipment. Furthermore, a shortage of qualified medical staff adds to the challenges, with doctors and nurses working under stressful conditions and receiving relatively low wages. Therefore, despite high health care insurance coverage in Vietnam, the quality of care remains inadequate and insufficient, particularly for impoverished, vulnerable groups. 

As stated in a 2016 Vietnamese Government and UNDP report, the social assistance transfer system offered limited coverage and minimal impact on poverty reduction. Social assistance transfers are government programs or initiatives to support individuals in extreme impoverishment through cash transfers, food assistance, housing subsidies, education grants, health care subsidies and more. Compared to other middle-income countries, the value of social transfers in Vietnam is minimal, undermining their potential impact on family well-being and economic growth. Delivery systems of social protection are undeveloped, with limited use of technology for implementation. The provision of social care services is inadequate, with a shortage of professional social workers and insufficient support for vulnerable individuals.

Improvements to Social Protection in Vietnam

Although Vietnam has made tremendous progress in social protection, challenges remain. There appears to be a need for the country to make additional efforts that aim to strengthen coordination among programs, expand coverage and benefits for vulnerable groups, improve health care infrastructure and education, enhance the capacity of social workers and health care professionals and mobilize resources and international support. Implementing these measures could reinforce Vietnam’s social protection system and ensure the well-being and inclusion of all its citizens.

– Freya Ngo
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19's Impact on Poverty in the BahamasA tourism-dependent country, the Bahamas was hit hard by international travel restrictions and lockdown policies put in place due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, the island nation has recorded an estimated $9.5 billion in losses between 2020 and 2023, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Furthermore, a recent report published by the IDB and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) shows that the pandemic continues to have a lasting impact on the Bahamian tourism sector and the overall economy.

With many Bahamians still experiencing heightened financial hardship and diminished access to vital necessities, the World Bank estimated that the country’s poverty rate could rise to more than 13%, returning the poverty rate to roughly what it was in 2013. Fortunately, the Government of the Bahamas has been working to mitigate the pandemic’s social and economic impacts and speed progress toward recovery.

Dwindling Tourism, Employment Rates and Incomes

Tourism accounts for about 50% of the Bahamas’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about 70% of jobs in the country. With an estimated $7.9 billion of the country’s total losses for 2020-2023 occurring in the tourism sector, the sharp decline in tourism had a detrimental impact on employment and livelihoods, driving many families into poverty. For instance, between 2019 and 2020, the country’s unemployment rate rose from 10.7% to 25.6%. Additionally, “The fraction of households reporting earnings below the minimum wage more than doubled between January and April 2020,” according to the IDB. The IDB anticipated that “aggregated losses in wages of employees and workers” would “reach $2.4 billion for 2020-2023, or 4.9% of GDP per year on average.” This has coincided with an estimated loss of about 30,000 jobs or about 14.7% of the labor force.

The joint IDB-ECLAC report also highlights that COVID-19’s impact on poverty in the Bahamas has been particularly noticeable among rural and marginalized communities, exacerbating already-restricted access to health care, education and other vital services. Moreover, a lack of dependable internet connectivity and digital infrastructure has hampered remote learning and access to online employment opportunities.

Government Action

COVID-19’s impact on poverty in the Bahamas prompted government action. In 2020, the Government of the Bahamas partnered with local non-governmental organizations to address pandemic-induced hunger and establish the National Food Distribution Task Force. The emergency task force distributed food vouchers and packages to endangered households throughout the country, delivering critical assistance to more than 76,000 Bahamians in need by June 2020.

Social Protection Programs

The Bahamian government also introduced the Unemployment Assistance Program (UEA), which the National Insurance Board (NIB) of the Bahamas adopted in April 2020, to supply social protection for informal workers. The UEA provided targeted aid for three particularly vulnerable groups:

  1. Government-registered self-employed individuals.
  2. Public transport drivers who had no business license but did have “a public service drivers’ badge.”
  3. Self-employed individuals in the tourism sector who had no business license but “could provide proof of work.”

Members of these groups received weekly payments of BSD200, equivalent to about $200, for 13 weeks to alleviate income loss during the lockdown. In July 2020, the UEA was extended to also provide lost income subsidies for self-employed individuals in the tourism sector who were not able to work due to the decline in tourism.

Looking Ahead

While, as a result of COVID-19, the Bahamian tourism sector recorded losses of around 61.22% in 2021, this number is expected to drop to 1.35% by 2024. As the country’s economy continues to recover, the government’s efforts to alleviate COVID-19’s impact on poverty in the Bahamas remain significant. Looking ahead, there is equally hope for further investment in diversifying the country’s economy, building resilience and creating new sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Nathaniel Scandore
Photo: Flickr