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Digital identity can be ‘highly exclusionary’ for social protection: UN report

Digital identity can be ‘highly exclusionary’ for social protection: UN report

“Digital identity systems should not be a prerequisite for benefiting from social protection schemes and when they are set up, they should be designed in a way that is inclusive,” states Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in his global report on the problems and missed opportunities around social protection.

The report, ‘Non-take-up of rights in the context of social protection,’ from the fiftieth session of the UN Human Rights Council currently underway, examines why people do not or cannot access welfare or government services.

There are many issues, such as a lack of knowledge or governments presenting them like charity handouts, causing stigma. One barrier is the need for a legal identity to access social protection or to be part of the formal economy, in turn unlocking social protection. Another barrier is the uptake of digital identity schemes, which can be “highly exclusionary” according to the rapporteur.

De Schutter mentions the case of Uganda, where between 23 and 33 percent of the country’s adult population have not received a national identity card as part of the new scheme, as reported by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYU), Initiative for Social and Economic Rights and Uganda’s Unwanted Witness in their report ‘Chased Away and Left to Die’ published in June 2021.

“Alternative forms of identification, including passports, driving licences, voter identities or birth certificates should be accepted until all individuals receive digital identity cards,” writes De Schutter.

The report details the lost opportunities of poorly designed or managed projects: “Social protection schemes that fail to effectively reach those in need are a huge waste of resources, tantamount to watering plants with a leaking can.

“When individuals do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled, owing to a lack of information, bureaucratic hurdles or the fear of humiliation, it is not a cost that society avoids but a missed opportunity to reduce poverty and inequalities, and thus to improve social cohesion and long-term development prospects.”

De Schutter calls for access to social protection to be considered a human right, for schemes to be better publicized and depoliticized.

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