In 2013, 292,000 Palestine refugees benefited from the SSNP, which focuses on the ‘abject poor’ – those who cannot meet their basic food needs. On a quarterly basis, these refugees receive basic food commodities and cash subsidies from a number of distribution points, both fixed and mobile. While the programme has many aims, its basic interventions are:
Providing basic food supplies and cash subsidies to the abject poor
Helping poor families make connections to service providers
Providing selective cash assistance, such as one-off cash grants for basic household items or other needs, in the event of fire, flood, loss of family breadwinner or other family emergency
UNRWA began mass distributions of rations in 1950, providing a basket of more than ten basic items, including sugar, flour, rice, cheese, fuel and soap. As contributions allowed, clothes, shoes, bedding and domestic items were included. Over time, the number and size of rations decreased, due to funding shortages and a growing realization that not all Palestine refugees needed the same forms of support.
In 1982, the Agency completely closed the mass distribution of food rations in all fields except Lebanon, where mass distributions ran for a further two years.
The Agency’s Special Hardship Assistance programme (SHAP) was introduced in 1978 to provide assistance to the neediest families, and by the mid-1980s, it was the only programme providing rations to low-income Palestine refugees. The SHAP began changing the way it delivered food aid in 1997, offering a quarterly food package combined with a cash subsidy.
Recently, UNRWA undertook a major reform to change the way families in need are targeted, and the SHC programme became the Social Safety Net programme (SSNP). Instead of determining Palestine refugees’ eligibility for assistance through categorical criteria, we employ a poverty-based system based on an abject poverty line.
Under the new system, age, gender and employment status no longer affect a Palestine refugee’s eligibility for assistance, eliminating a systemic bias against the working poor. Now, field- and family-specific poverty lines based on the local socioeconomic context are used to identify an individual’s poverty level, helping UNRWA focus its assistance on those who need it most.
As population growth and poverty both continue to threaten Palestine refugees and political pressures in many fields prove another obstacle, the SSNP that UNRWA provides is a valuable lifeline. Despite the increasing pressures the Agency is facing, we remain committed to working towards the goal of a decent standard of living for Palestine refugees.
Seeking to assure improved access to services for the most vulnerable Palestine refugees, the Agency decided, in 2012, to make the oversight and implementation of gender, youth, emergency and disability activities an RSS responsibility. This new arrangement aims to meet two goals: First, to ensure that our work on poverty is adequately informed by analysis, policy and programming as regards gender, youth, emergencies and disabilities; and second, to better promote these themes, not simply as ‘cross-cutting’ issues, but as topics to which the Agency seriously and deliberately devotes resources and activities.
We are now working to close the SSN cases of individuals close to achieving or surpassing established abject poverty lines. This will allows us to assist pending cases and focus most closely on the poorest.