The Effect of Recent Social Protection Changes in the Palestinian Territories On the Poor: Interviews with Families and Policy Makers
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip experience significant social problems such as high rates of poverty and unemployment. Since 1994, two major initiatives (2005; 2009) were introduced to reform social protection programs and establish clear criteria for assessing the needs of poor Palestinian families. During the development and implementation of these initiatives, Palestinian policymakers have encountered significant limitations. This study examines these reforms and is guided by three research questions: 1) How do anti-poverty policies impact the lives of program recipients in the Palestinian Territories? 2) Have the initiatives improved the lives of the poor Palestinians? and 3) How have internal and external limitations impacted the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs?
This qualitative study utilized purposive sampling using the snowballing technique. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with government officials and welfare recipients, observation of meetings in the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) and review of archival material (e.g., Cash Transfer Strategy, Social Protection Plan). Twenty two respondents were interviewed: six recipients of social assistance and sixteen top staff members of MOSA and the Ministry of Planning and Administrative Development (MOPAD). The interviews lasted between thirty minutes to two and one-half hours. To develop an accurate interpretation of the data, this study relied on two approaches: the within-individual and across-participants approaches.
The findings showed that the recent changes in social programs had adverse effects on poor Palestinians. Due to the new criteria of the 2009 initiative, most recipients of social assistance received less cash assistance and some recipients had their assistance terminated in 2010. Although the benefits assisted the poor families to some extent, they were insufficient to meet their basic needs. To deal with this insufficiency, the heads of needy Palestinian households reduced their spending on food, received financial support from their relatives, or started small home businesses. The recent anti-poverty policies were designed and implemented under serious constraints including shortage of funds, lack of experts and human resources, and lack of a mature legal system. As a result, many poor Palestinian families received insufficient assistance or none at all.
Conclusion and Implications:
The results highlight the need for changes in how social services are provided for Palestinians living in poverty. Given the insufficient levels of governmental assistance, a cooperative relationship should be established between governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This relationship may lead to the creation of programs that can compensate for the insufficient social assistance of the PNA. Also the findings of this study highlight the importance of creating alternative funding sources (e.g., NGOs, private sector).to sustain social programs. More research is needed using representative community samples of Palestinian residents and that includes other indicators of well-being such as social exclusion, psychological distress, and educational achievement.