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Cambodia launches social security payments for poor

Ministry to determine who will qualify for cash assistance under policy ‘targeting at-risk families’

A homeless man lays on the floor as a couple wearing face masks walk past in Phnom Penh on June 23, 2020

A homeless man lays on the floor as a couple wearing face masks walk past in Phnom Penh on June 23, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 06, 2022 05:27 AM GMT

Updated: December 06, 2022 06:11 AM GMT

The Cambodian government has initiated its third-ever social security payment system, citing a weak global economy, inflation, the Covid-19 pandemic and this year’s floods for exacerbating hardships among the poor, particularly in rural areas.

A directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the Planning Ministry to determine who will qualify for cash assistance under a government policy “targeting at-risk families across the country.”

It said they will “receive timely payments, in order to guarantee justice, equality, integrity and transparency … to ensure that at-risk people and families who are encountering real difficulty due to the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the severe flooding this year and inflationary pressures.”

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Families considered “vulnerable to floods” have been identified in Phnom Penh and in a further 15 provinces across the country’s central and southern regions. Each family will receive a monthly allowance of $20 for the next three months.

"The pandemic ended a decade of unprecedented economic growth"

Individual family members will receive an additional monthly allowance of $4, including the elderly and the disabled, amid this year’s heavy floods which also ended a four-year drought and caused considerable crop damage.

Families identified as “vulnerable to inflation” will receive between $20 and $25, depending on whether they live in a city, small town or rural areas — while each family member will receive an extra allowance ranging from $5 to $7.

Funding has been allocated for December, April and July — shortly before the next national election — and the order said the program is being implemented “in a time of crisis” and would expire after all three payments are made.

Cambodia established its first social security reserve fund early last year with an initial tranche of $200 million to directly help the impoverished as the Covid-19 pandemic, like elsewhere, crushed the local economy.

According to a recent World Bank Poverty Assessment Report, the pandemic ended a decade of unprecedented economic growth and poverty reduction in Cambodia and pushed about 460,000 people into poverty.

Initial funds were direct allocations made to Cambodians suffering from the pandemic-induced economic downturn. A second program was launched soon after to support pregnant women and children under two years old.

To date, state spending has exceeded $622 million with direct aid to more than 2.7 million people.

Speaking at a conference about the impact of the pandemic on the Mekong sub-region on Dec. 5, Phean Sophoan, national director of Oxfam, said Cambodia’s social protection system was moving into a much stronger phase.

“The substantial investment in social protection is essential if Cambodia wants to be more resilient when facing economic shocks, severe impacts of climate change, or unprecedented events like the Covid-19 pandemic,” he told a panel discussion.

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