Social Protection Shield During Pandemics and Disasters

Hasan Basri Alagöz
Ministry of Family, Labour, and Social Services, Head of Strategy Development

In contact with every household, family, and individual in Turkey, merely to say the entire population, the Ministry of Family, Labour, and Social Services (MoFLSS) has three main goals: Happy and productive individuals, harmonious families, and a prosperous society.

Carrying out social services that strengthen individuals and families in line with these goals, the MoFLSS also takes measures to regulate and supervise work life to contribute to socioeconomic development.

The MoFLSS provides a social defense that covers all segments of society: families, lineages, children, women, those with disabilities, the elderly, those in need, relatives of martyrs, veterans, workers, employers, job seekers, and retirees. Built upon protective and preventive programs for groups that require special policies, focused employment policies, and rights-based social assistance practices, social defense has a wide area of effect from individuals to families and from families to society.

The activities and services provided by the MoFLSS stand out as mainly preventive, protective, and curative in extraordinary situations such as earthquakes, floods, and epidemics.

The capacity building activities that the MoFLSS exhibits in ordinary times contribute significantly to increasing resistance levels against extraordinary situations. The variety of tools for safeguarding employment, general health insurance, social assistance networks spread across the country, and maintenance services play a dominant role in active struggles with epidemics and disasters.

Activities Within the Scope of Combating the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected social life and work life around the world in 2020. The MoFLSS held comprehensive consultations with civil society organizations, unions, and the business world to reduce the negative impacts of the pandemic and to protect citizens and implemented remedial measures under the name “Social Protection Shield.” The Social Protection Shield consists of four dimensions work life, social security, social assistance, and social services.

The basic targets in line with minimizing the effects of the pandemic on work life are to look after employment opportunities, worker, and employers together; effective practices such as short-term work allowances, cash wage assistance, and normalization assistance were rapidly implemented. Employers and employees have been supported by postponing businesses’ insurance premium payments in sectors affected by the pandemic.

The strong, sustainable social security system has increased Turkey’s resilience during the struggle with the epidemic through the additional precautions that have been taken. The Health Implementation Communiqué (SUT) has made continuous updates to ensure that participation shares and other additional fees are not collected from citizens in the diagnosis and treatment process and that the drugs and immune plasma therapy used in treating COVID-19 patients are added to the reimbursement list.

Professionals who provide healthcare services to in-patients diagnosed with COVID-19 are reimbursed for the high-cost care services to prevent transmission. Thus, an additional 660 TL per day per patient has begun being paid to hospitals caring for patients in this context.

People coming from abroad have the opportunity to be issued a sick leave/incapacity report by a single physician for up to 14 days and are provided incapacity benefit payments for the reported days. E-mailed applications made by citizens requesting health assistance certificates while abroad are approved; these citizens are given the opportunity to receive health assistance abroad by preparing health assistance documents.

One of the encountered socioeconomic difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the effective and rapid delivery of social assistance to citizens.

Through the Social Support Program implemented during the pandemic, support of 1,000 TL has been delivered to citizens in need in over 6,000,000 households.

Using the Integrated Social Assistance Information System, information technologies have been used extensively in this process in the field of social assistance. All the steps in the social assistance process can be carried out electronically monitored, measured, and reported thanks to this system that integrates 7 modules and 25 institutions. By making rapid decisions with the data infrastructure provided by this powerful information system, social assistance has been provided immediately to individuals during the pandemic.

Using this data infrastructure, more than 2 billion TL in grants have been distributed within the scope of the National Solidarity Campaign “We are Self-Sufficient, Turkey” as 1,000 TL per household to households in need.

MoFLSS staff have adopted a self-sacrificing work discipline to ensure uninterrupted social services in this period. The institution personnel have carried out their duties without leaving the institution by switching to a fixed shift system with 7, 10 and 14 day periods. The staff altruistic approach, especially those in organizations, has made a significant contribution to protecting the health of the elderly.

Thanks to the strict measures taken, care centers and nursing homes for the disabled and elderly in Turkey have been assessed as examples of good implementations by the World Health Organization.

Under the Social Protection Shield, the amount of support provided in 2020 as short-term work allowances, cash wage support, unemployment benefits, normalization assistance, social support programs, and grants distributed from “Together We Are Enough, My Turkey” exceeded 45 billion TL.

Activities for Combatting Disasters

Within the 28 different service groups in the Turkey National Disaster Response Plan (TAMP), the MoFLSS has been determined as the main solution partner for the In-Kind Donation, Warehouse Management and Distribution Group and the Psychosocial Support Services Group. 

Funded by the MoFLSS, the 1,003 Social Assistance Solidarity Foundations (SASF) play an important role in meeting the urgent needs of disaster victims following disasters.

The MoFLSS transferred 76 million TL worth of resources in 2020 through the SYDVs to citizens who have been impacted by disasters in the provinces of Adana, Adıyaman, Bıngöl, Bursa, Bitlis, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Erzurum, Giresun, Hatay, İstanbul, İzmir, Konya, Malatya, Manisa, Mersin, Muş, Trabzon, Rize, Sakarya, and Van.

MoFLSS teams have been providing psychosocial support services since 2013 for citizens in disasters and emergencies to return to their normal lives as soon as possible and to reduce psychological impacts that have occurred due to their experience. 

Psychosocial support workers act as an important part of the aid team in disasters and the post-disaster recovery, development, and mitigation periods.

The MoFLSS has realized its own capacities in the processes of preventing the psychological dissonances that may arise with post-disaster psychosocial support services, re-establishing and improving relations at the family and community levels, and returning those affected by disaster to their normal lives and has performed studies for empowering their capacities.

Psychosocial support services are also quite important for gaining and reinforcing skills for coping with, recovering from, and picking back up from disaster situations that may arise in the future in society.

All these interventions aim to develop the capacities of those benefitting from services and ensuring the sustainability of services as well as rebuilding and preserving social ties. The MoFLSS, Provincial Directorates, and 353 social service centers operating throughout the country have a large role in realizing all of these services.

The MoFLSS continues to work with superior efforts in line with the vision of “happy and productive individuals, harmonious families, and a prosperous society” and the principle of “Let the people live so the state lives!” to achieve its 2023 goals under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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