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Dec. 16, 2022

How can social protection be inclusive of persons with disabilities in the Pacific?

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How can social protection be inclusive of persons with disabilities in the Pacific?

Inclusive social protection is not about preferential treatment for persons with disabilities, it is about ensuring we have the appropriate support systems and processes in place to put us on an equal playing field with others, taking into consideration age, gender, so that we can truly realise our rights and progress.

These were the words of Joshco Wakaniyasi, Manager Inclusive Development, with the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF).

Social protection programs and systems that understand the unique barriers faced by persons with disabilities, and are designed and resourced to address these barriers, can ensure the full and meaningful participation of persons with disabilities. PDF, a Pacific regional organisation representing persons with disabilities, that represents 71 organisations across 22 Pacific Island countries (PICs), has developed a set of six pre-conditions to achieving the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Social protection is one of these(1).

Social protection is broadly understood to cover a variety of interventions designed to guarantee basic income security and access to essential social services. It can be considered a network of responses that take a coordinated approach to the multiple, compounding, and dynamic vulnerabilities faced by persons with disabilities throughout the life course. Social protection responses can come in the form of cash or in-kind benefits that assist people to meet their basic needs or buffer them from economic shocks.

Much of the discourse on persons with disabilities focuses on their disadvantage, rather than the realisation of their rights to fully and effectively participate in all aspects of society. Our research, “The case for including persons with disabilities in social protection in Pacific Island Countries”, found that when designed and implemented correctly, inclusive social protection offers powerful, multiplier benefits for persons with disabilities, their families, and the broader community.

What are the benefits of making social protection inclusive?

It reflects accountability

Governments have legal commitments and obligations to provide social protection for persons with disabilities. Over the last 10 years, social protection has become an integral part of policy discussions for Pacific Island governments; however, government expenditure is low and in many Pacific Island Countries, contribution towards disability-specific schemes is less than 1 percent of national GDP.

It increases access to livelihood opportunities

Social protection systems can play a critical role in supporting persons with disabilities to enter and remain in formal and informal employment. Social protection supports persons with disabilities to become part of the workforce by providing financial support to overcome physical, communication and other barriers to economic participation.

It increases household resilience to shocks

Social protection has proven to be a crucial channel for providing disaster and post-pandemic relief in a number of countries in the Pacific. In their evaluation of post-disaster cash transfer support provided to vulnerable communities including persons with disabilities in Fiji, Tonga, and Vanuatu, PDF found that households that benefitted from the top-up transfers recovered more quickly. The stronger the national support system for persons with disabilities, the more responsive and effective this post-disaster relief can be.

It increases overall productivity and labour participation

In addition to supporting persons with disabilities to become part of the workforce, social protection can also contribute to the cost of care. This can reduce the burden of unpaid care work which, because of its gendered nature, means that female carers can return to the labour market and contribute to household economic wellbeing.

What needs to happen to make social protection inclusive of persons with disabilities?
  1. Include persons with disabilities in the design, delivery, and evaluation of social protection systems
    Persons with disabilities know what they need best. Including persons with disabilities in all stages of social protection design means that programs will be more targeted, needs-based and efficient. Actions such as establishing an advisory group of organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) to work with government is one way to ensure this.

    For example, in Fiji the Disability Allowance Scheme (DAS) was designed and implemented in consultation and collaboration with national OPDs. This has resulted in a scheme that is targeted at providing ‘disability extra costs’ which enable persons with disabilities to participate in education and employment opportunities.

  2. Implement outreach programs to inform persons with disabilities about social protection
    PDF, in consultation with its national OPD partners, identified that many existing social protection systems are discriminatory and restrictive, reaching below a quarter of persons with disabilities. Information provided is inaccessible for many people and identification and referral systems present barriers to participation. There is a need to reach more persons with disabilities, to encourage people to engage and apply, and to raise grievances and seek redress in cases where they have been unfairly treated. Developing outreach strategies that use diverse communication methods and accessible formats such as automated voice messages, text, use of video and easy read-format for people with intellectual disability is one way to promote the uptake of social protection.

  3. Use a rights-based assessment approach to determine social benefits for persons with disabilities
    Holistic assessment and planning can be life-changing in identifying multiple and dynamic needs and combining cash and social supports for persons with disabilities. Although the inability to work is often used as the threshold to qualify for benefits, assessment and eligibility criteria must recognise the extra costs of workforce participation for persons with disabilities. In this way, social protection can be transformative in supporting persons with disabilities to improve their livelihoods and obtain employment.

  4. Benefits should take into account the increased costs of living associated with disability
    Some calculations suggest that on average the additional living costs of an adult with disability are equivalent to almost half of their income(2). These costs can include assistive devices, communication aids, accessible transport and other forms of assistance essential to enabling social and economic participation. Social protection systems should include a method for calculating the average additional monthly income that a person with disability needs to enjoy that same standard of living and apply this when considering the adequacy of benefits.

  5. Increase the evidence base and push for improved data
    While we are learning about what works, we know there is much more we need to learn. There are significant knowledge gaps in how social protection processes in the Pacific can improve the wellbeing of persons with disabilities. The inclusion of disability-specific questions in population-based censuses and/or assessments for granting disability status mean that persons with disabilities can be represented in management information systems and social registries, thus making access to services now and in the future more viable.

Inclusive social protection alone is not the solution, and creating meaningful and active participation for persons with disabilities requires a holistic approach. We know that including the lived experience and perspectives of persons with disabilities in designing social protection activities makes them more effective, and accessible for all. Persons with disabilities should be included in social protection systems not only because it is their right, but because equitable access to opportunities for all has positive impacts for everyone in society.

This blog is co-authored by Leaine Robinson and Joscho Wakaniyasi (PDF). It is based on the paper “The case for including persons with disabilities in social protection in Pacific Island Countries”, by Elayn Sammon, Iris Low, and Leaine Robinson, which was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The paper was developed for organisations of persons with disabilities in Pacific Island Countries, to support their advocacy for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection programs. It responds to the increased focus on social protection in the Pacific region in response to the social and economic effects of COVID-19, and reflects the global conversation on disability and social protection.

The team at P4SP would like to acknowledge the sad passing of Joscho Wakaniyasi who co-authored this blog. A number of our staff worked with him directly and have reflected what a terrible loss this is for the Social Protection and Disability Communities.

Karishma Huda, P4SP’s team leader said, “On behalf of my team I’d like to pass on my sincere condolences to Joscho’s family, friends, and colleagues. Joscho was such an ally and asset for disability-sensitive social protection. I was incredibly impressed by him when we were on a panel together at the Asia-Pacific Social Protection event in Manila, and have reached out to him countless times since for advice.

"Many people’s lives were vastly improved because of his unwavering commitment to his work. Our thoughts are with all of those he leaves behind.”


(1) The Pacific Disability Forum’s six pre-conditions complement the UNCRPD pre-conditions and were developed from the perspective of a person with a disability. The six pre-conditions are: 1) Accessibility; 2) Assistive Devices; 3) Support Services; 4) Community Based Inclusive Development; 5) Social Protection; and 6) Non-Discrimination.

(2) John, E., Thomas, G. and Touchet, A., February 2019, The Disability Price Tag 2019 Policy Report. Scope: London.


Sammon, E., Low, I., Robinson, L. (2021). The case for including persons with disabilities in social protection in Pacific Island Countries, Social Protection Approaches to COVID-19 Expert Advice Service (SPACE), DAI Global UK Ltd, United Kingdom. Available at:

Pacific Disability Forum (2020). Guideline on Pre-Condition to Inclusion Persons with Disabilities- COVID-19 Response. Retrieved from: