Social protection is a right!

As we strive for a more equitable and just society, it is essential to recognise social protection as a fundamental human right.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Labour Organisation Conventions, and the Sustainable Development Goals, emphasise the importance of social protection in ensuring human dignity and well-being.

Social protection is not just a moral imperative, but an economic one. It provides a safety net for the vulnerable, reduces poverty, inequality, and enables individuals to invest in education, health and other productive activities. This, in turn, contributes to economic growth and development.

It is, therefore, disheartening to learn that there is increasingly a lack of support for the vulnerable in society. The abandoning of a woman by the roadside somewhere in Winneba in the Central Region recently has once again brought the issue of neglect of the vulnerable into public discourse.

The tragic incident, which ended in the woman’s death after she succumbed to leg injuries she sustained in an accident is a stark reminder of the glaring inadequacies in our social welfare systems.

She was left to her fate with nothing but a wheelchair, a heartbreaking sight that was shared widely on social media. This senseless tragedy could have been averted if our country had a functioning social protection system that prioritised the well-being of its citizens.

A system that would swiftly come to the aid of those in distress, providing timely medical attention and support, and even going the extra mile to notify their loved ones.

Instead, we are left to lament the loss of a precious life, a reminder of our collective failure to ensure that the most vulnerable among us receive the care and support they deserve. It is high time we recognised the urgency of strengthening our social welfare system to prevent such avoidable tragedies and ensure that no one is left behind.

However, the situation is not so in the country as the Social Welfare Department is poorly resourced and, therefore, does not have the right number of personnel where they are mostly needed.

Ideally, every hospital should have a social welfare officer or better still officers who will step in to cater for people who through no fault of theirs find themselves in difficult conditions such as the woman’s.

The Social Welfare Department, which is under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), has been one of the most poorly resourced departments over the years.

The under-resourcing of the department has become chronic to the extent that it is unable to perform its core mandate of protecting the welfare of the vulnerable in society.

The department has inadequate shelters  which are poorly resourced and the occupants depend on the benevolence of philanthropists.  The well-being of the occupants and maintenance of victims can, therefore, not be guaranteed.

Oftentimes victims of domestic violence have to be taken to the ARK Foundation, a private shelter, and the situation is so bad that even officers, be they social workers or police officers in charge of the victim, sometimes have to bear the cost themselves.

Last Thursday, the Daily Graphic published the budget of the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, with only two social protection programmes, namely the School Feeding Programme and the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme taking as much as 99.51 per cent of the ministry’s entire budget, leaving only 0.49 per cent for the running of the entire ministry.

Had the country's social welfare system been robust, this vulnerable woman could have been provided shelter and care while efforts were made to locate her relatives.

Unfortunately, the lack of functional systems led to her abandonment on the outskirts of the town, a decision that, although seemingly harsh, was likely taken as a last resort by the hospital.

This tragic incident highlights the urgent need for effective social support systems that can ensure the safety and well-being of all citizens, especially those in crisis. It is unacceptable that vulnerable individuals are left to face dire circumstances without a safety net.

The Ministry of Health's prompt response in setting up a committee to investigate this incident is commendable. We demand accountability and urge that those found negligent be held responsible.

Furthermore, we call on the relevant authorities to ensure that our social systems are robust and responsive, so that when individuals face crisis, they know where to turn to for help. 
Every life is precious and deserves protection. Let us work together to prevent such avoidable tragedies and uphold the value of human life.

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