Governments around the world are increasingly recognizing the necessity of robust social protection programs, and Jordan is no exception.
In 2019, Jordanian authorities introduced the Unified Cash Transfer Program (formerly Takaful) to supplement existing contributory schemes in the formal labor market, including pensions and benefits related to maternity, workplace injury, unemployment, and disability. The program is intended to support the so-called working poor, many of whom work in the informal economy. Beneficiaries receive 40 to 136 Jordanian dinars (US$56 to $192) monthly.
This year, the World Bank-supported program is expected to reach around 120,000 households. But following a sharp increase in poverty, the government has found that nearly one in four Jordanian households, around 580,000, were living under the poverty line in 2022. The program’s limited scope and its targeting algorithm means that many of these families will be deemed not amongst the poorest and won’t benefit. Moreover, the poverty line itself is a measure that doesn’t fully capture the number of people unable to realize their economic, social, and cultural rights.
To select beneficiaries, the program, which won an Arab Government Excellence Award, largely relies on a database that collates data points about applicants from over 30 government agencies. Officials of the National Aid Fund, which administers the program, told Human Rights Watch that Jordan’s expansive e-government infrastructure allows for more advanced and accurate targeting.
The Jordanian government’s attention to social protection makes it a leader in a region that has historically neglected this policy, vital for human rights such as social security and an adequate standard of living. But its emphasis on targeting is a missed opportunity to secure one of the foundations of a strong social contract and economic resilience. Human Rights Watch research into Jordan’s program examined its ambitious attempt to target cash transfers using large amounts of data about people’s economic situation, but found the selection process undermined by errors, discriminatory policies, and stereotypes about poverty.
Poverty indicators used by targeted programs like Jordan’s to rank and select beneficiaries inevitably fail to capture the economic complexity of people’s lives and excludes many. They fuel social tension and widespread perceptions of unfairness. The amount of personal and sensitive data this process requires also threatens privacy.
Instead of relying on an approach that leaves many people deprived of their right to social security even as they go hungry, fall behind on rent, and take on crippling debt, Jordanian authorities and the World Bank should move toward a universal social protection system that enables all people to realize their rights, including to social security, throughout their lives.