AMMAN: Significant welfare reform must be implemented across the Middle East and North Africa to satisfy the socio-economic demands of the Arab Spring, according to a World Bank-Gallup survey published on Tuesday.
Stronger “social safety nets” — such as income support and temporary employment programmes — are needed in the region, where government fuel subsidies “benefit the non-poor to a much greater extent than the poor,” it said.
The report, entitled “Inclusion and Resilience: The Way Forward for Social Safety Nets in the Middle East and North Africa,” surveyed citizens of Egypt and Tunisia, the two countries that led the Arab Spring, and of Lebanon and Jordan, which were mostly untouched by the mass uprisings.
Most of the respondents believed the “primary responsibility for helping the poor should lie with governments, not religious or charitable organisations or friends and family,” the report said. And only 30 per cent of Egyptians and 22 per cent of Lebanese thought their governments’ efforts to help the poor were effective.
That number was significantly higher in Tunisia and Jordan, at 61 per cent and 66 per cent respectively, with confidence in government measures much lower among the poor than the wealthy.
The survey added that in all four countries, many people were unaware of existing social assistance programmes, the poor least of all.
“The average Egyptian was aware of only two of the six programmes presented to them,” it said.
Those surveyed wanted to see better welfare support for the poor.
“More than eight in 10 adults in each country think that social assistance programmes should focus only on the poor,” it said.
They believed “eligibility should be based on levels of poverty rather than the current method which ignores economic means and relies on broad categories such as widows or the disabled.” “These views are consistent with those of leading experts on the design of effective social assistance programs,” it added.
Current government grants disproportionately favoured the more wealthy, the report said.
A large proportion of government welfare funding in the region goes to fuel subsidies, with the poor benefiting less than the rich who consume more subsidised energy, it said.