This week, the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation, and Poverty Alleviation is hosting a conference on social protection called "From Flaws to Floors". The Ministry is seeking to provide better, more stable aid to poor and less fortunate citizens of the country.

Readily available examples of the Government already doing this include the Boost Program, and the Food Pantry program. Social Protection is defined as a series of pro-poor policies, both public and private, which are aimed at preventing, reducing and eliminating the vulnerabilities to poverty and deprivation.

But Government's pro-poor programs are not enough. And so, GOB is partnering with UNICEF, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Bank, and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), to find out best practices in other parts of the world, and what technical advice that these organizations can provide on the topic.

We stopped by today for day one of the conference, and spoke with a few of the experts about what social protection is:

Asha Williams, Social Protection Specialist, World Bank
"The Social Protection is really important component of public policy. It really seeks to ensure that people do not fall into poverty and that those who are poor get out of poverty. Essentially it focuses on 3 things: promoting equity, ensuring that everyone has equal access to the benefits and services; promoting opportunities, giving people opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty and also boosting resilience. Ensuring that people can be resilient against shocks and different shock events that may hamper their wellbeing."

Mark Antrovus, Rep., Min. of Human Dev.
"This workshop really is a follow up to our first social protection conference we had in 2012. There are 3 main objectives for this week: one, is to review the progress we've made in about 6 years. Second, is to integrate sustainable development goals into social protection and our work and really the third is to chart the way forward for the next 5-6 years."

"Social protection is important for everybody. That's the first important point and social protection is looking at 2 things: helping people get out of poverty and also preventing people from falling into poverty. So it's applicable for everybody. People might have very good job and feel well off right now, but we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. You may lose your job. You may become disabled. So there should be a social safety net that helps you in those circumstances."

"In 2016/17 we did a comprehensive review and the consultants came back and says actually you have lots of different programs, lots of good coverage, but you don't really have a system. So we look at 50 different programs back in 2016 and so they made a few recommendations which was obviously discussed this week. One of which is to increase coverage, increase targeting and make sure we have coverage in the whole life cycle. So from pregnant women all the way through to old age. We've increase the coverage of programs. If you go back to 2008, we didn't have boost program. We didn't have a food pantry program and so now they are each covering over 4,000 beneficiaries on a monthly basis. So it's certainly not right to say its ineffective. Now whether we need to increase the coverage, whether we need to increase the benefit side. These are all questions that we will be asking this week."

"The social protection isn't necessarily about relief. That's one side of the social protection, in terms of social assistance and then having social insurance is important from social security, but access to healthcare for example is a human right and so we know that NHI is being rolled out recently up north into Corozal. Again the conversation is how to increase that coverage and make sure that everybody is covered and has free access to primary healthcare."

Asha Williams, Social Protection Specialist, World Bank
"Several colleagues have worked here. Look at the Boost program and also at the information system that was established. I think one of the key achievements of the ministry has really been what its done to setup the boost and also the associated information system that they developed with it. Developing information system is something I am going to speak about this week, is a challenge that several countries are faced with. A lot of countries implement multiple programs and they struggle to coordinate the implementation of those programs and I think that Belize was able to do something really innovative when they develop the single information beneficiaries system, which was a very important lesson for the Caribbean countries which also struggle with implementing these systems. They are often very costly and I think one of the things that the ministry was able to demonstrate was that you can actually improvised and implement a comprehensive information system with the resources that you have."

Ariel Pino, Social Protection Specialist - ILO Caribbean
"The objective of the ILO is to achieve social protection and this is done hand in hand with employers of government and in accordance with sustainable development goals of 2030. So that's the key. We had a component which we can called social welfare and that's coming from the labor market. This is certainly something that we need to improve, because in Belize you have a sector and therefore you are missing some capacity to extend social security and if you extend social security, you are creating more formal employment. Therefore you are reducing the need to use social assistance."

Michael Guinand, Prog. Coord., UNICEF Belize
"The idea is to work together on how to make a more comprehensive social protection system, more coordinated and the idea of having at least basic social securities for the old population and that is what is meant through the social protection floor."

After this conference, the Ministry will host 3 more in January, February, and March, to tackle different aspects of social protection.

Channel 7