According to the most recent data collected by ESCWA in its new report entitled “Strengthening Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities in Arab countries”, the disability prevalence rate in the Arab region is around 2.9 per cent.
This number is expected to steadily rise, considering that older persons are more likely to have disabilities and that the regional population is ageing. Several recent and ongoing armed conflicts are another factor contributing to the increase. As elsewhere, persons with disabilities in Arab countries are disproportionately poor and vulnerable. It is therefore critical that they have access to adequate social protection, which, as the report of ESCWA shows, is too frequently not the case.
The employment rate amongst persons – and especially women - with disabilities in the Arab region is very low, with the implication that they are typically excluded from contributory social and health insurance, which is contingent upon formal employment. In addition, the data indicates that even when persons with disabilities work, they are more likely than others to do so informally.
Non-contributory forms of social protection – including social assistance and non-contributory health insurance –are increasingly distributed in Arab countries on the basis of poverty targeting, such as proxy means testing. Whereas this has the potential to ensure that resources are more effectively channelled to the poor and vulnerable, the specific costs faced by persons with disabilities – e.g. for special means of transport – are frequently overlooked by the targeting formulas. Thus, their real poverty level risks being underestimated, resulting in their exclusion from non-contributory social protection programmes. The extent to which this has been taken into account appears to vary between countries.
Furthermore, within both contributory and non-contributory social protection schemes in Arab countries, benefits specifically related to disability are commonly contingent upon inability to work. This could reinforce the notion that having a disability is not compatible with partaking in the labour market, so persons with disabilities may have to choose between the support they need and employment. Meanwhile, even when social protection is available to persons with disabilities, it is often inadequate. Cash benefits are usually too low to compensate for disability-related costs. The quality of health care is generally low in the region, and the particular forms of care needed by persons with disabilities are not provided.
Finally, the report stresses that social protection for persons with disabilities must be an integrated part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is based on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. The associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets are all interdependent, meaning that advancing the right to social protection for persons with disabilities depends on achieving other goals. For example, persons with disabilities will in practice be able to reach health care facilities only if public infrastructure and transport are made accessible. The report also highlights how ensuring the participation of persons with disabilities and harnessing their abilities can benefit everyone, and is indispensable for the realisation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
The report is available here: https://www.unescwa.org/publications/social-protection-persons-disabilities