Samoa Designs First Disability Focused Social Protection Program

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Disability Reference Group Members Samoa, left to right from top row Maselina Iuta, Mata’afa Fa’atino Utumapu – Chair, Milovale Lama, Suria Apulu – Deputy Chair, Herbert Bell. Fetoai Togia is also a member of the DRG.

In June 2020, the opportunity to develop Samoa’s first Social Protection Programme for Persons with Disabilities, was introduced through UNESCO’s participation in the UN Joint Program “Strengthening resilience of Pacific Island States through Universal Social Protection”.

During the initial planning of the Joint Program, the Disability Reference Group (DRG) was established through the election of representatives of the disability community by disability service providers and stakeholders.

The DRG was tasked with the responsibility of advocating for inclusivity within the Joint Program and is comprised solely of persons with diverse disabilities.

Suria Apulu, 32 from Faleasi’u and Herbert Bell, 34, of Vaiala, were both born with a disability and are strong advocates of the disability movement in Samoa. Suria and Herbert were both elected by disability stakeholders as members of the newly formed DRG. Working with the DRG, Suria and Herbert hope to fulfil their aspirations to improve the lives of persons with disability by assisting them to realise their human rights.

In partnership with the Governments of Samoa, Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands, the United Nations Country Team initiated the Joint Programme on Social Protection in early 2020. 5 UN agencies including UNESCO, UNDP, ILO, ESCAP and UNICEF will work with stakeholders across the 4 PICTS from government, civil society and private sector to implement the activities of the Joint Programme on Social Protection.

The Joint SDG fund, supported by UN Member States, international organisations, the private sector and individual philanthropists, has allocated approximately $3 million USD to the Joint Programme on Social Protection across the 4 PICTS.

The programme aims to assist the Governments of the four PICTs develop evidence based, nationally owned Social Protection systems that are financially sustainable to accelerate progress of the Sustainable Development Goals through integrated programming in national and sub-national development. This is to ensure an inclusive approach to sustainable development in line with the UN 2030 Agenda and commitment to Leave No One Behind.

Suria, who was born prematurely with a physical disability, says she has high hopes that one day Samoa will have a sustainable social protection system that will “reach all ages and genders of persons with disability”.

The DRG is chaired by Mata’afa Fa’atino Utumapu, General Manager of Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA), the National Advocacy Organisation for Persons with Disabilities in Samoa. NOLA along with the DRG, will play a key role advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities.

Mata’afa said that “The formulation of the disability reference group to serve as the advisory body for the implementation of the Pilot Project is a huge step in the right direction. It really shows a strong commitment to remain true to the concept of nothing about persons with disabilities without their full and active participation and inclusion. As the group consists of persons with diverse disabilities, gender, age and geographic location, the reference group does its best to represent the diversity of the disability community”

The development of a Pilot Project for Social Security for Persons with Disability is a key outcome of the Joint Programme. Collectively, disability stakeholders, including the DRG and representatives from NOLA, SENESE, Aoga Fiamalamalama, Samoa Blind Persons Association, Deaf Association of Samoa and Loto Taumafai Society, and key Government ministries, including Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour, Ministry of Finance and the Samoa National Provident Fund, identified health as a priority area where additional support is required to enable the full and effective participation of Persons with Disabilities in society.

The aim of the Pilot Project is to propose a design of a Social Security Benefit in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that will be financially sustainable in the long-term by the Government. The Social Security Benefit may cover such items as healthcare, transportation or a cash benefit similar to the Senior Citizens Pension. On completion of the Pilot Project, the Government will be presented with a business case for a Social Security Benefit for their consideration.

Being totally blind Herbert is heavily reliant on taxis as the public transport system is difficult to navigate. Herbert can spend over $80 Tala a week on transport just to access essential services he requires. Herbert says if a social security benefit were introduced it could ease the cost of transport and health care and he could then use his “income to do more Samoan things like Fa’alavelave and help the extended family as well”.

Mata’afa hopes the introduction of a Social Security Benefit would help others in society see the “contribution that persons with disabilities can make to society if given the opportunity or when systems are in place”