Social Policy


Social budgeting

Social protection


Social budgeting

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0837/Isaac
Children eat together at a centre for orphans and other vulnerable children, Namibia.

A country’s budget is perhaps the most powerful tool a government has to implement its policies and advance the rights of its children. Whether children’s rights to health, nutrition, education and protection can be fully realized or not, depends heavily on whether these rights are given due consideration and prioritized during the budgeting processes, in which resources are marshalled and policies are translated into financial commit¬ments.

In recent years, many countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have recorded strong economic growth. And the number of countries exporting large quantities of natural resources is growing by the year. This has the potential to significantly increase government revenue in these countries, creating greater space for increased government expenditure. However, increased government expenditure does not necessarily translate into increased social expenditure. Some countries might be tempted to invest more where impact is more visible in the short-run, such as the infrastructure sector, hence a lesser focus on social sector, for example, investing in safety nets for the most vulnerable members of the society. 

Angola, for example, despite earning billions of dollars through its oil industry, still has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, particularly in middle-income countries, such as Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.

While acknowledging that financial resources alone are not sufficient to durably improve the situation, UNICEF makes the case for harnessing available resources, especially domestic resources, and tracking their expenditure to ensure that they effectively reach children and ultimately improve their situation. Public finance, especially the social sector budgeting process, is the single most powerful tool available to promote equity and basic services for disadvantaged children.

© UNICEF/UGDA2010-00837/
A ten-year-old boy stands at the window of his mud hut in a village in Uganda.

UNICEF in action

Investing financial resources to help children survive and develop is, first and foremost, a moral imperative. But investing in children is also important on practical grounds. It yields positive benefits to economies and societies. Since the foundation of an individual’s health and well-being is laid during early childhood, the most opportune time to break the cycle of poverty, or prevent it from beginning, is during that time. 

UNICEF’s mission is to help countries ensure that all children survive and develop into their full potential, as well as those that will allow them to develop to their full potential. To maximize resources for children, UNICEF supports governments in identifying funding sources, creating consensus around the need to invest more in children, and using public finance policies to achieve sustainable progress in the fulfillment of children’s rights. UNICEF works with governments and partners, including civil society, development agencies, and the donor community to help ensure that budget and policy priorities reflect this commitment.

While UNICEF’s specific work varies from country to country, there are several common goals, each contributing to stronger public finance policies for children:

  • improving equity by helping ensure that children, women and poor families are not marginalized in both the actual public sector allocations as well as the decision-making process of arriving at these; 

  • improving efficiency by helping achieve the best possible results for children for the amount of resources committed; and

  • contributing to stability by helping secure adequate resources to sustain investments in the social sectors and promote social protection, notably during crises.

Results for children

  • In 2013, social budgeting, public finance or public expenditure reviews have been carried out in nine countries in the region. In countries such as Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique, these exercises have served to build the capacity of government officials, legislators, and civil society to understand and influence public spending for children. 

  • Budget allocation reviews were carried out in Uganda and Mozambique, to examine how the national budget is allocated to social sectors, such as education, health, water and sanitation, and assess whether it is aligned with development objectives, such as national development plan, MDGs, and other major international development goals.

  • Benefit Incidence Analyses have been undertaken in Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda and their conclusions will inform policy makers on the impact of public expenditure on population groups of different income status.

  • Kenya’s social budgeting and social intelligence reporting on education, health, WASH, nutrition and social protection has helped identify weaknesses in service delivery, and promote dialogue on how to make follow-up actions.



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