The Chief of Staff at the Presidency, Madam Akosua Frema Osei-Opare, has called for a national social protection dialogue to identify sustainable financing mechanisms, generate commitments and explore sustainable public-private partnerships to pursue national social protection for vulnerable persons in the country.
The Chief of Staff, who tasked the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to convene the national dialogue, said it would unlock innovative ideas to tighten the delivery of Ghana's social protection agenda so that nobody is left out.
The endemic nature of poverty and other forms of socio-economic vulnerabilities in Ghana had been issues of immense concern to Ghana since the country gained independence in 1957.
An extensive body of literature reveals that the global poverty outlook continues to be threatened with increasing levels. According to the World bank's Global Poverty Updates in March 2021, Sub-Saharan Africa tops the global poverty level with 42 per cent.
Ghana equally has its fair share of the poverty syndrome, which affects the aged, children, women and People with Disability (PWD), identified as the most vulnerable, resulting in the introduction of numerous social protection policies initiatives towards mitigating the hardships.
Speaking on the theme; "Social Protection in Ghana: Are We on Track", at the 2021 University of Ghana Lecture on Wednesday organised by the University's Alumni, Madam Osei-Opare said, Ghana's Social Protection story had been an evolving system, which had steadily increased its scale and functionalities over time.
She said it was evident from the numerous social protection policy initiatives, that Ghana had been bold in developing several relevant social protection programmes that had benefited the poor and the vulnerable.
The Free SHS policy, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), School Feeding Programme, Capitation Grants for schools at the basic levels, Disability Fund, Free Maternal Healthcare, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), Cash Transfers, Fertiliser subsidies for farmers, Youth Employment initiatives, among others, had served as important social protection ecosystems in Ghana.
The Chief of Staff said the school feeding programme which began with 10 pilot schools drawn from then regions and had expanded to 200 schools covering 69,000 pupils in 138 districts by August 2006. I
It is currently feeding 3.4 million pupils in 10,560 schools nationwide.
"It is important to underscore that in 2018, GSFP achieved an unprecedented 30% expansion of coverage (of both schools & pupils) and also increased feeding grant from eighty pesewas (GHC 0.80) to one cedi (GHC 1.00) per pupil per day."
Madam Osei-Opare said the 2022 National Budget had proposed to increase coverage from the current 3.4 million to 4 million pupils. "This would immediately increase coverage from the current 71.8 % to 84.5%."
That, the Chief of Staff said, was a positive move towards increasing equity across the country in the delivery of the Programme. "A universal coverage would certainly reduce the need for intense lobbying by various community actors to get their schools captured under the school feeding programme."
The Chief of Staff said it was welcoming news that Ghana's School Feeding Programme was steadily moving towards universal coverage. "The plan of government to incrementally expand the school feeding programme to cover all children enrolled in public schools from Kindergarten (KG) to primary six (6) is a laudable one. The 2020/2021 academic year enrolment data shows that there are about 4.73 million pupils nationwide."
The most important she said, was the government's flagship programme, the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) implemented from the 2017/2018 academic year, built on the successes of the Capitation grant for basic school education.
Madam Osei-Opare said the Free SHS, which has enhanced access, ensured equity and increased equality in secondary education, enrolled over 1.4 million students between 2018 to 2020, compared to the 2014 to 2016 enrolment figure of 881,600.
That, the Chief of Staff said, represented a monumental increase of 58.8%. "This substantial increase is due to the removal of cost barriers, expansion of infrastructure and a more creative and equitable enrolment approach."
The institution of the innovative double track system, she said, offered the opportunity for all students to be absorbed. "The policy has increased access to all school-going children in every corner of the country. Now, parents do not have to choose between the girl child or the boy child due to insufficient funds."
Madam Osei-Opare said the fundamental understanding of the government was that the most effective and surest way of tackling poverty was to break the chain that passed it from one generation to the next in a systematic way through education.
The Free SHS Policy, she said, demonstrated the commitment of the Akufo-Addo led government to "leave no one behind" adding, however, that, challenges such as budgetary constraints, targeted inaccuracies, as well as, poor coordination mechanisms exist at all levels and must be addressed.
She said besides the aforementioned flagship programmes, "I can say that there are many more diverse social programmes aimed at addressing the specific needs of vulnerable persons and groups which is not under discussion today."
The Chief of Staff assured that the government would continue to pursue a strong social protection agenda for the vulnerable that would increasingly guarantee the provision for good healthcare, education, poverty alleviation and support for persons with disabilities.