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The Welfare State of Mauritius: between “Incompetency” and “Failure”

Living on the road / poor

According to the World Social Protection Report 2017-2019, nearly three-quarters of the world is deprived of a comprehensive social protection system. Since its independence in 1968, African country, Mauritius, has always tried to preserve its welfare state, but with mixed results.

Today, the island nation benefits from universal and selective services such as free health, free education, social assistance schemes, pension schemes, and housing assistance. However, in hindsight, the social welfare system has transformed into a political lexicon, altogether eschewing its primary aim; to preserve social integration and cohesion.

In the politics of welfare, where the pension system, free education, and housing assistance were to stabilize and improve the people’s living standard, the rate of poverty continues to increase dramatically. 

With the  Covid-19 outbreak, the Mauritian government has introduced a series of measures to limit the pandemic’s spread and minimize the impact of the economic and social crisis on the populations. But the island’s social protection system has certain limits, notably in identifying those who really require priority care.

The World Bank suggests that Mauritius’s poverty will continue to escalate to 12% in 2020 and gradually decline to 9.5% by 2022 with the global economic recovery. 

To further curb the consequences of poverty and inequality, the government has also implemented the Marshall Plan since 2016. Still, the Gini coefficient has been increasing at an average annual rate of 1.71%. “Mauritius is a mixed-capitalist system, where the private sector plays a dominant role. Such a system will always lead to inequality in the distribution of income and wealth,” said Majid Beegun, Higher Social Security Officer.

Like Mauritius, several governments have linked the eradication of poverty and inequality to the social protection system. The social work perspectives see that social protection should be structured on the people’s needs and rights. It is not to be understood as a strategy providing relief for individuals who have failed societies. On the same line of thought, the International Federation of Social Workers highlights that social services should not be viewed as an “end-of-the-pipe” solution for the progression of the welfare system. 

According to UNDP consultant Christophe Muller, Mauritius has been incompetent in achieving shared development and provide equal opportunities across different demographics. 

He connotes that this failure and ineffectiveness of the welfare system stems from its poor design and monitoring. The eviction of squatters during the Covid-19 pandemic reflects the government’s failure to meet their housing target. At the same time, the National Housing Development Corporation waiting list keeps filling up. Other instances include the Child and Family Development programme’s complex delivery mechanism, or, most crucially, the institutional capacity distress within the National Empowerment Foundation (NEF). 

In contrast to Muller’s statement, Majid Beegun believes that the social security system is doing a laudable job managing the welfare system. 

I don’t think the social security system is becoming unfit to meet its purposes. It seems that its role has been undermined with the Corporate Social Responsibility and NGOs working in parallel to cater to the poor and needy,” he said.

The new IFSW policy contends that a disempowering social system is an object of scorn since it undermines society’s primary role of catering and helping one another. On the flip side, people often consider universal and selective social services to be synonymous with stigmatization. It is all the more stereotyping and stigmatizing because of their association with the dependency culture. In people’s eyes, this culture of dependency discredits social solidarity among them. Middle-class tax-payers will revolt against:

  1. The inefficient management of universal basic services.
  2. The fact that they do not enjoy all the benefits.
  3. As per Bramley’s study, they will claim that these services are much more beneficial to the more affluent class.

However, the World Economic Forum has significantly criticized the myth of welfare dependency. “More broadly, we should focus less on policing “freeloaders,” and more on giving poor families the type of dependable financial assistance that will allow them to make substantial long-run investments in the health and education of their children,” the organization said.”If we are willing to cast aside the prevailing beliefs about poor people’s dependency and laziness, we can start to make the social safety net a springboard of upward social mobility“, added the WEF.


A Plan for a Social Register in Mauritius – UNDPwww.undp.org › dam › mauritius_and_seychelles › docs