Accessing and Improving Social Assistance for People with Disabilities in Indonesia

Friday, February 19, 2021

In Indonesia, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to rapidly increase the prevalence and severity of poverty. Many people are unable to work, jobs and incomes have been lost, and business forced to close, increasing debt for many. Recent projections estimate that as many as 8.5 million people could be pushed into poverty. People with disabilities – one in 11 Indonesians – are further at risk from these economic shocks, and the pandemic is only expected to heighten inequalities.

Against this backdrop, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) MAHKOTA (Towards a Strong and Prosperous Indonesian Society) program recently analysed a quantitative survey of people with disabilities, conducted by disabled people’s organisations, the Australian Government (through AIPJ2), decentralised governance and social inclusion organisations.

MAHKOTA’s analysis revealed enormous shortcomings in the accessibility, reach, and scale of Indonesia’s social assistance programs, including an inability for the vast majority of people with disabilities to access these programs.

A staggering 97 per cent of people with disabilities in Indonesia do not currently have access to regular social protection benefits.

The majority of people with disabilities who work are employed in the informal sector, earning low and irregular income, making them susceptible to income shocks in times of crisis. More than half of all survey respondents reported incomes below IDR 1 million (A$92) per month, compared to Indonesia’s national income average of IDR 2.38 million (A$219)^.

Job loss and unemployment due to the pandemic is a concern for all nations. MAHKOTA’s reporting shows more than two thirds of respondents may have become poor or fallen deeper into poverty since the onset of the pandemic. Such groups are most in need of government intervention during these times, and their access to this assistance is vital.

In response to this crisis, the national government is working to improve knowledge of – and access to – social assistance schemes. The government has introduced a set of COVID-19 social protection policies. These consist of new and regular social protection programs that have been expanded vertically (with additional new beneficiaries) and horizontally (with top-up benefit amounts).

Indonesia’s programs include the national electricity subsidy, the Family Hope (PKH) conditional cash transfer program, and the food voucher (Sembako) program. Other programs have also been launched as part of the COVID-19 response, including unconditional cash transfers, food transfers and modified cash for work programs.

The government’s COVID-19 social protection programs are largely pro-poor, meaning that their coverage and influence is greatest among vulnerable people with disabilities. More than half of all ‘highly-vulnerable’ respondents reported that they are benefitting from at least one program, compared to only one third of ‘non-vulnerable’ respondents. Still, social protection coverage for people with disabilities is severely lacking.

MAHKOTA has advocated for the urgent expansion of social protection programs for people with disabilities, both in the current crisis response and in long-term social protection policies. Given their high vulnerability and limited access to social protection, MAHKOTA believes expanding social protection for people with disabilities should be the government’s priority.

Moreover, MAHKOTA understands the challenges in relying on poverty-targeted systems in responding to crisis, as it can present barriers to providing swift and effective protection to those who have become vulnerable as a result of the crisis. To better understand these issues, the program has called for increased engagement with people with disabilities during the design, implementation and monitoring of social protection programs. This way, social protection in Indonesia can be contextualised, inclusive and fit-for-purpose, better reaching those who need it most.

This article draws heavily from MAHKOTA’s policy brief Economic Impacts and Access to Social Protection during the COVID-19 Crisis: The Experiences of People with Disabilities in Indonesia.

Read the full policy brief here

For further information contact:

Simon Barns
Country Manager – Indonesia

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