The Global Community has an ambitious agenda to transform our world by 2030 – “we are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.” (Transforming our world: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development)
More than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. Around 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty – on less than $1.25 a day. 805 million people worldwide go hungry every day. 750 million people have no access to clean drinking water. 165 million children under the age of five are stunted due chronic malnutrition.
The gap between the rich and poor are ever widening within countries and between countries; the benefits of growth are not distributed. According to Oxfam, “just 62 people own as much wealth as 3.5 billion people in the bottom half of the world’s income scale.” The global economy has doubled in size during the last 30 years, but the gains have benefitted only the people on the top of the ladder.
Since the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, the Commission on Social Development has been a key United Nations body in charge of the follow up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration. Some of the key areas are:
- Create an economic, political, social, cultural and legal environment that will enable people to achieve social development;
- Eradicate absolute poverty by a target date to be set by each country;
- Support full employment as a basic policy goal;
- Promote social integration based on the enhancement and protection of all human rights;
- Achieve equality and equity between women and men;
- Attain universal and equitable access to education and primary health care.
Meeting these commitments are an ongoing struggle for the world community. More than a billion people have been lifted out of poverty since 1990, meeting just 50% of the target through the Millennium Development Goals. Globally, 300 million workers lived below the $1.25 a day poverty line in 2015. Only four in 10 young women and men aged 15-24 were employed in 2015.
The work of this Commission is critical and integral to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and help the world’s 786 million people living in poverty reach their human potential by promoting people centered, inclusive policies aimed at leaving no one behind.
At the United Nations, the 55th Commission on Social Development is in session from February 1 – 10, 2017 with a priority theme: “Strategies for eradication poverty to achieve sustainable development for all.” The NGO Committee on Social Development, a coalition of organizations dedicated to working towards a people-centered social change and development through the UN, engage with this commission very closely. In fact, the Civil Society Forum that precedes the Commission is jointly sponsored by the NGO Committee Social Development and UN-DESA Division for Social Policy and Development.
We have come to realize that economic growth will not reduce poverty, improve equality or produce decent jobs. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reach people living in extreme poverty. Often the progress is temporary for those who have moved out of poverty.
“Understanding genuine causes and solutions to the various poverty traps demands a dispassionate and objective reflection on the inadequacies of longstanding development policies and practices, and calls for innovative structural and systemic changes…situating development at the heart of the UN Agenda calls for new understanding of the role of the state as an enabler of ‘a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all can thrive.’ The institution of Social Protection Floors is one of the clearest means of fulfilling the vision of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development for all.” (Civil Society Declaration to 55th Commission on Social Development)
Sustainable Development Goal 1, Target 3 of Agenda 2030 ‘to end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ calls for the “implementation of nationally appropriate social protection systems for all, including floors.” Social protection and decent work (Goal 8.5 By 2030 achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.) are fundamental tools for ending poverty, reducing inequality and building socially inclusive societies. It is the responsibility of each government to implement social protection including floors. Studies in Africa and Asia have shown it is a successful strategy to reduce poverty.
Social Protection Floors are meant to convey at least minimum benefits to all people at every stage in their life cycle (children, elderly, disabled, etc.) through whatever combination of nationally designed and selected programs the government deems appropriate. The one essential element is that all people are covered at the minimum level. One requirement of Social Protection Floors is that it be available when people need it, meaning that its tax-financed components should not be classified as discretionary government expenditure, but as an entitlement that the government is obligated to provide at the promised level to all who require it. If people in economic recession lose their jobs and health insurance and need to draw on unemployment insurance and public health insurance system, they must be available for them. The metaphor is a floor, something solid that all people can stand on and on which they can feel secure; it is a minimal set of social protections, a safety net that catches people falling from above during times of stress. Safety nets are non-contributory transfers that provides targeted support to a vulnerable population.
How did the concept of Social Protection Floors come about? In April 2009, the UN Chief Executives Board agreed on nine joint initiatives to confront the global economic/financial crisis; pave way for a more just and sustainable globalization. Initiative number 6 was a “social protection floor” that would ensure “access to basic social services, shelter, and empowerment and protection of the poor and vulnerable.” This initiative was coordinated by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and supported by UN agencies, international NGOs, development banks and other development partners.
They realized that approximately 75% of global population lacked adequate social security and this undermines social cohesion, creates political instability, increases the vulnerability of an already vulnerable population experiencing shocks from natural disasters, climate change and financial meltdowns.
At the 101st session of the ILO in 2012, governments, employers and workers representing 185 countries unanimously adopted ILO Recommendation 202. This provides guidance to member states in building comprehensive social security systems and extending social security coverage by prioritizing the establishment of national floors of social protection accessible to all.
According to the ILO Recommendation 202, Social Protection Floors are nationally defined sets of basic social security guarantees that should provide access to essential social services and basic income security for all those in need over the entire life cycle. It should include:
- Access to essential health care, including maternity care
- Basic income security for children (nutrition, education and other necessary services)
- Basic income security for persons of working age who are unable to earn sufficient income (sickness, unemployment, maternity and disability)
- Basic income security for older persons
Social Protection Floors is based on shared principles of social justice and refers to the Universal Declaration of Human rights as well as the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
New policy approaches and strategies are required to tackle poverty in all its forms. It calls for political will, strong institutions, governance and partnerships in line with each national context.
Governments should understand that financing for social protection is a wise investment opportunity rather than as a short-term service delivery. Even small programs produce positive results. “In order to ensure development reaches all people, people themselves have to be active participants in the process, from planning and implementation to monitoring and review. Rather than approaching citizens as mere recipients of assistance, social protection efforts should hold the potential of empowering all members of society to become active agents in development efforts. Citizen engagement in analyzing policies, reflecting on the capacities and realities of local communities and engaging in and monitoring the implementation of policies will allow for greater transparency, policy effectiveness and trust among members of society.” (Civil Society Declaration to 55th Commission on Social Development)
What is emerging and missing in the social protection debate
Teresa Kotturan SCN
Sisters of Charity Federation UN NGO Representative