Authors

Antonio Franco Garcia Social Protection Specialist, UNICEF (Lebanon)

Khalil Dagher Social Protection Specialist, UNICEF (Lebanon)

Disabled people are among the hardest hit by economic crises and the consequent loss of purchasing power in Lebanon. Not only they incur high costs in the form of direct expenses on medical treatments, travels, rehabilitation, and assistance or care, they are also often left out from humanitarian responses.

Persons with disabilities continue to face discrimination that excludes them from education, work and livelihood opportunities that allow them to earn a decent income. Moreover, they are more likely to require additional support from other members of their household. Far too often, they remain subject to abuse, particularly women and girls.

As a result, persons with disabilities are at high risk of falling into poverty than the rest of the population, with up to two-thirds of households with a member with disability living in the lowest-income quintile, compared to fewer than 3% of those in the two richest quintiles.

Despite being a middle-income country, Lebanon’s social protection system remains inadequate, fragmented, and highly reliant on foreign support. The latest overlapping and subsequent crises have made the shortcomings of the current system even more intense and more evident.

The most recent data shows that disabled people in Lebanon remain excluded from its limited social assistance programs. Before the crisis, over two-thirds of people with disabilities in the country lived in households that did not receive any social assistance, which shows the level ofdisparity they are subject to and especially the barriers they face to access social services and aid.

The government of Lebanon has taken steps to expanded its cash assistance programs as the  COVID-19 pandemic aggravated, although this remains narrowly targeted to the poorest of the poor. Even though the National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP) and the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) – Lebanon’s main poverty-targeted schemes – have expanded since 2021 to cover nearly 150,000 households, their coverage still stands below 15% of the Lebanese population.

This has not been nearly enough to what is needed, given the latest national poverty figures. Meanwhile, the rest of the population has had no alternative than to rely on informal networks, charity and different forms of solidarity, including ones that are political or faith-based, to meet their most basic needs.

To address this impasse, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA), together with the European Union, ILO and UNICEF, have just announced the roll out of Lebanon’s National Disability Allowance – a new national social assistance program that is designed to provide cash transfers for eligible persons with disabilities.

Over 20,000 Lebanese youth aged 18–28 will now benefit from regular cash transfers of $40 a month for 12 months starting in April 2023. The program has been designed following an extensive consultation process with organizations representing persons with disabilities (OPDs).

Social assistance programs that provide cash have proven to be helpful in supporting the vulnerable populations to meet their immediate needs and cope with the various socio-economic shocks. They provide recipients with greater flexibility and a larger freedom of choice compared to in-kind donations, so that they can prioritize their own needs. Needs that can include education, healthcare, food, shelter, medical equipment, and others.

The disability allowance program is the first social grant to be implemented to expand access to cash assistance to the most vulnerable groups in Lebanon, since the COVID-19 hit and discussions on improving the country’s social protection system to persons with disabilities, families with children, older persons and the left behind, have been renewed. The program aims at complementing the existing, targeted poverty-alleviation  programs in place as part of the government’s new Social Protection Strategy that has been approved by the council of ministers in May 2022.

While in the short run the program will be funded by the European Union, moving forward, it is a priority for UNICEF to work with MoSA and other donors to find a sustainable source of funding and ensure the continuity of the program beyond the lifetime of the funded support and eventually its expansion to reach every person with a disability in the country. This program is a first crucial step to building a more inclusive social protection system and is a manifestation of a a serious will among social actors to help the most vulnerable cope and recover from one of the worst economic crises Lebanon has ever  seen.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Arab Reform Initiative or the Arab Region Hub for Social Protection

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.

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