MENA Residents Put Onus on Government to Help the Poor

MENA Residents Put Onus on Government to Help the Poor

by Joana Silva, Victoria Levin, Matteo Morgandi, and Cynthia English

But many say government social assistance is not effective

This article is the first in a two-part series on social assistance in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region based on data collected for the forthcoming World Bank MENA flagship report, "Inclusion and Resilience: The Way Forward for Social Safety Nets in the Middle East and North Africa."

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At least eight in 10 adults in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia say their respective governments should bear the primary responsibility for helping the poor in their countries, according to a forthcoming World Bank MENA flagship report. Far fewer residents identified other social actors, such as religious or charitable organizations or friends and family, as the ones who should be most responsible for social assistance.

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These results are based on nationally representative surveys, which measure attitudes about, knowledge of, and support for social safety nets in Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt. The findings reflect more than 4,000 interviews with adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in spring 2012. Gallup collected these data for the World Bank's forthcoming MENA flagship report, "Inclusion and Resilience: The Way Forward for Social Safety Nets in the Middle East and North Africa." Read the overview of the report in English or Arabic.

Many Do Not View Government Social Assistance as Effective

Residents in the four countries surveyed give mixed reviews on their respective governments' efforts to help the poor. Egyptians and Lebanese are most critical about their governments' current efforts, with 21% of Lebanese and 30% of Egyptians believing that their government is somewhat or very effective in assisting the poor. Jordanians (66%) and Tunisians (62%) are more positive about how effective their governments are at assisting the poor.

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Poorer residents in Jordan and Tunisia are less convinced than are wealthier residents about their governments' effectiveness in helping the poor. These differences highlight that the people most in need of social assistance in these countries are the least satisfied with their governments' efforts to help them. The Middle East and North Africa's limited scale of social assistance that is directly targeted at the poor could partly explain residents' dissatisfaction. Current spending on social assistance in the region goes predominantly to universal fuel subsidies, mostly consumed by the rich, and representing, on average, 4.5% of GDP, compared with less than 0.8% of GDP that goes to nonsubsidy social assistance programs.

Residents Highly in Favor of Social Assistance Programs That Focus on the Poor

At least eight in 10 adults in the four countries surveyed believe social assistance programs should exclusively focus on serving the poor rather than serving specific groups of people such as widows, orphans, the sick, and the elderly, regardless of whether they are poor. These views are consistent with those of leading experts on the design of social assistance programs. While the number of poor-focused programs is increasing, targeting benefits only to specific groups, irrespective of their level of poverty, remains common practice throughout the region.

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Substantial majorities in all four countries also favor cash-based social assistance, rather than directly providing recipients with goods such as food and clothing. At least two-thirds of adults in each country favor the cash-based approach, ranging from 68% in Lebanon to 85% in Jordan. Few MENA countries provide targeted cash-based assistance on a large scale; the majority of countries in the region rely on untargeted subsidies of goods.

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Awareness of Social Assistance Programs Lowest Among the Poor

Awareness of available social assistance programs varies by country, but is consistently lowest among the poor -- those in the lowest income quintile. To gauge awareness of the availability of social assistance programs, respondents were first asked if they could spontaneously name any existing social assistance program in their country. Then, respondents were asked if they recognized any social assistance programs from a list of several programs read to them.

Twenty-three percent of Egyptian adults had never heard of a single social assistance program when asked, and the average Egyptian knew of a third of the available programs to help the poor in their country (two out of the six programs on the list).

Jordanians, on average, were aware of 50% of the existing programs -- three out of six programs on the list. Tunisian and Lebanese adults were able to recognize 60% of the names of the social assistance programs read to them -- three out of five programs on the list -- suggesting higher name recognition of these programs in these countries.

In all four countries, poorer adults were generally less likely than better off respondents to know about available social assistance programs -- even though they are, in theory, these programs' intended beneficiaries. This reveals that more outreach may be necessary to increase the poor's awareness and participation in existing social assistance programs.


These results provide the first-ever glimpse into what residents of a selected group of countries in the Middle East and North Africa region think and know about social assistance programs, and what they would prefer to see in the future. In general, people in these countries believe the government should play a prominent role and be more effective in providing social assistance to the poor. The findings also suggest the majority of adult residents in the four countries surveyed would likely support making social assistance programs poverty-targeted and cash-based, as some leading experts have proposed.

According to the forthcoming World Bank report, having an effective and dependable social safety net in place is key to promoting inclusion and resilience and can be instrumental in helping the poor make ends meet in countries implementing reforms to move away from universal fuel subsidies. To become more effective, social assistance programs need to reach the poor, both in terms of information about what is available and with better targeting of resources.

Access the overview of the report and MENA SPEAKS survey here.

Read the World Bank blog about the forthcoming report here.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in March-May 2012. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.3 percentage points to a high of ±3.6 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

MENA SPEAKS (Middle East and North Africa Social Protection Evaluation of Attitudes, Knowledge, and Support) is a module that was added to the Gallup World Poll in spring of 2012 in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

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