1 February 2012
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4787

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Fiftieth Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)


Deputy Secretary-General Calls for Speedy Action to Create Jobs, Ensure Social


Protection as Commission for Social Development Opens Fiftieth Session

 


Under-Secretary-General Urges Member States to Focus

On How Green Economy Can Best Contribute to Poverty-eradication Efforts


As the gap between rich and poor widened and one third of the global workforce remained either unemployed or mired in poverty, the international community must ramp up action to create jobs, ensure social protection and foster economic recovery, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told the Commission for Social Development as it opened its fiftieth session today.


“We have three years to reach the Millennium Development Goals,” she pointed out.  “We must do everything possible to speed up progress and to keep our promise to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”  The Social Protection Floor Initiative set up by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact, were important programmes that could help promote recovery, she said.  But more must be done to lift people out of poverty and to improve their lot, particularly in the case of young people, who were three times more likely than adults to be unemployed, as well as the elderly and those with disabilities.


Development could never be sustainable if it left millions of people unemployed, poor, hungry and excluded, or if ecosystems were damaged in the process, she stressed.  As part of the Year of Sustainable Energy for All, the Secretary-General had launched an initiative aimed at ending energy poverty and boosting a clean-energy revolution to benefit all countries, she said, calling on all States to support that initiative, which could help stem poverty, while spurring economic expansion and protecting the environment.


Similarly, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”), urged Member States to focus on how a green economy could best contribute to the creation of jobs and the eradication of poverty.  That was particularly important given that climate change and environmental degradation were severely straining some populations, leading to social and humanitarian crises, he said, citing the devastating impact of drought in the Horn of Africa.


With a greater focus on strengthening the social pillar of sustainable development, the Commission could contribute to shaping “the future we want”, he stressed, defining such a future as one in which social justice prevailed and all individuals benefited from sustained growth and globalization, and in which the environment was protected.  “The real wealth of nations occurs when each and every individual has access to a decent job and educational opportunity, quality and affordable health care, adequate and nutritious food, secure shelter and social protection,” he said, calling for “a bold set of policies” to reduce inequality and advance the goals of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.


Echoing those sentiments, Miloš Koterec (Slovakia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said those core issues must also remain a focus of the Commission as it worked to help define a development framework for the period beyond 2015, the target year for realizing the Millennium Development Goals.  “I encourage you to further strengthen your efforts in finding resolutions for these issues as you craft a policy outcome on poverty eradication in the days ahead,” he said, adding that the High-level Segment of the Council’s forthcoming Annual Ministerial Review would give that document its full consideration.


Jorge Valero Briceño (Venezuela), Chairman of the Commission, said that the global financial crisis, in addition to climate change and volatile food and fuel prices, had illustrated the need for greater efforts to galvanize in the minds of decision-makers the Commission’s central message — that “we cannot move forward sustainably if our system perpetuates inequality and if we lose sight of the ultimate objective of development, namely people and their well-being”.


Mr. Valero later chaired a panel discussion featuring presentations by Hoda Rashad, Director and Research Professor at the Social Research Centre of Egypt’s American University in Cairo; Armando Barrientos, Professor and Research Director at the Brooks World Poverty Institute in Manchester, United Kingdom; Su Guoxia, Deputy Director in the Department of Policy and Regulations of China’s State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development; and Jesper Oestrup Zwisler, Permanent Secretary in Denmark’s Ministry of Social Affairs, who spoke on behalf of Minister Karen Haekkerup.


Acting by acclamation at the outset of the meeting, the Commission elected Ana Marie Hernando ( Philippines) and Mohamed Ibrahim Elbahi ( Sudan) to serve as Vice Chairs of the Bureau for the fiftieth session.  The Chair announced that Olisa Cifligu ( Albania) would serve as Rapporteur.


The Commission also adopted, as orally corrected, its agenda and organization of work.


Participating in today’s general discussion were the Minister for Social Affairs of Denmark (on behalf of the European Union); and the Secretary of State and Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation.


Also participating were the Director of International Affairs in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands; the Director in the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden; and the Director of Social Affairs in the Ministry of External Relations of Peru.


Other speakers today were representatives of Algeria (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Jamaica (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Argentina (on behalf of the Southern Common Market), Finland and Switzerland.


The Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held on Monday.


Introducing documents for the Commission’s consideration was Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 2 February, to continue its general debate.


Background


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to begin its fiftieth session, which runs through 10 February.   For background information, see Press Release SOC/4786of 30 January.


Opening Remarks


JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela), Chairman of the Commission, said that the body’s accomplishments could not be overstated, noting that it had made critical contributions in guiding social policy that had helped to reduce the percentage of poor and hungry people in the world from 52 per cent in 1981 to 26 per cent in 2008.  Its work remained at the core of international development efforts and had successfully centred the world’s attention on the importance of eradicating poverty and realizing the Millennium Development Goals.


However, more remained to be done, he cautioned.  The global financial crisis, climate change and volatile food and fuel prices had shown the need for increased efforts to galvanize the Commission’s central message in the minds of decision-makers — that “we cannot move forward sustainably if our system perpetuates inequality and if we lose sight of the ultimate objective of development, namely people and their well-being”.


The fiftieth session took place at a critical time, he said, noting that recent events had made clear the importance of ensuring that strategies for economic development gave full consideration to social and environmental sustainability.  It was necessary to identify the root causes of the remaining challenges to poverty eradication, and to keep people at the centre of the development agenda.  Indeed, with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development on the horizon, the real and latent power of effective and coherent strategies to address those and related issues was not to be undermined, he stressed.


Poverty eradication and the just inclusion of all social groups were essential to sustainable development, he continued, adding that it was crucial to ensure that no one was left without a voice, a secure livelihood or opportunities for personal and community growth.  In that vein, he recalled that the General Assembly had recognized the importance of financing for the successful implementation of commitments to social development, and its request to the Secretary-General and the Chair of the Commission to organize a special event on financing of social development in 2012.  That event would be featured during the current session, he said.


MILOŠ KOTEREC (Slovakia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said 2012 would see particularly strong synergies between the Commission’s work and the Council’s High-level Segment.  This year’s Annual Ministerial Review would focus on “promoting productive capacity, employment and decent work to eradicate poverty in the context of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth at all levels for achieving the Millennium Development Goals”, which was directly linked to the Commission’s priority theme of poverty eradication.


There was a need to redirect the focus towards socially-inclusive policies that would promote social integration and public participation, with particular emphasis on vulnerable social groups, he said, noting that the Review would provide an opportunity for the Economic and Social Council to “turn a spotlight” on sustainable, inclusive and equitable models of economic growth that aimed to promote poverty eradication, job creation and decent work.  As the world economic downturn only served to exacerbate the rise in unemployment, there was a greater urgency to bolster job creation, he said.


With attention turning to the upcoming “Rio+20” United Nations Conference and Sustainable Development, it was essential to bolster the emphasis on eradication of poverty and inequality, job creation and social inclusion in order to ensure the world’s future sustainability.  Those core issues must also remain a focus when defining a development framework beyond 2015.  “I encourage you to further strengthen your efforts in finding resolutions for these issues as you craft a policy outcome on poverty eradication in the days ahead,” he said.  Since that document would be submitted to the Economic and Social Council, the Commission had the opportunity to influence the development debate, including the “ Rio+20” Conference, and preparations for the post-2015 development agenda, he said, adding that the Council’s High-level Segment would give it full consideration.


ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the Commission’s mission of protecting the world’s most vulnerable people was all the more important as the world faced uncertain times and a severe jobs crisis.  The latest International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics showed that one in three workers worldwide — or more than 1 billion people — was either unemployed or living in poverty.  Youth were especially hard hit and were three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and nearly 75 million young people were unemployed in 2011.  The global economic crisis was taking its toll, she said, noting also that the gap between rich and poor was “growing into a chasm”, as was the resentment bred by that trend.


Poverty put tremendous and sometimes unbearable pressure on families, she said.  When food and funds were scarce, patience and understanding were strained.  Suicide, drug abuse and even violence against women and children were likely to increase.  Young people — who should be looking to the future with hope — instead viewed their prospects with despair.  “We have three years to reach the Millennium Development Goals,” she emphasized.  “We must do everything possible to speed up progress and to keep our promise to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”  To lift the poor out of poverty, it was necessary to invest in social protection measures, especially for the poorest, and in opportunities for decent work, she said, describing the Social Protection Floor and the Global Jobs Pact as important initiatives that could help promote recovery based on investments, employment and social protection.


Turning to other issues, she said persons with disabilities could make a tremendous contribution to society if given the chance.  Cooperatives promoted the values of inclusivity, sustainability and solidarity, she added, pointing out that 2012 was the International Year of Cooperatives — an ideal time to promote cooperative enterprises as part of the response to the global economic crisis.  As part of the Year of Sustainable Energy for All, the Secretary-General had launched an initiative to end energy poverty and spur a clean energy revolution to benefit all countries, she said.  Developing countries were best-placed to benefit when modern energy services were brought to all people, she said.


“I hope all States will support this initiative, which can help reduce poverty, promote economic growth and improve the environment,” she continued.  Development could never be sustainable if it left behind millions of people unemployed, poor, hungry and excluded, or if ecosystems were damaged in the process.  The goal in Rio would be to chart a people-centred, inclusive, equitable and sustainable future.  “It is a future where a healthy, resilient environment can support present and future generations.  These goals must be one and the same,” she said, stressing that such issues must be part of discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.


SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, said the current session marked the fiftieth time that countries had met to deliberate on important social development issues and challenges.  During those 50 years, the world had recorded remarkable and impressive progress on the social development front, laying a strong foundation for economic growth.  While progress remained uneven, the number of people in developing countries living on less than $1.25 per day had been reduced significantly, he said, noting that, among other successes, people were living healthier lives, child mortality rates had declined and more children were completing school.


Despite those achievements, however, continuing and emerging challenges remained, he cautioned.  Climate change and environmental degradation were putting multiple strains on some populations, as demonstrated by the drought-induced social and humanitarian social crisis in the Horn of Africa.  Concerns about rising income inequality continued, and high unemployment as well as the lack of social mobility had fuelled widespread indignation in some countries.  It was necessary to determine how to build on past social development successes to address those challenges, and to strengthen the social pillar of social development, he said.


During the current session, he said, the Commission was expected to produce an action-oriented outcome on the priority theme of poverty eradication, taking into account its relationship to social integration, full employment and decent work for all.  “As we move forward in addressing the many challenges before us, our priority should be to strengthen the social development of a global recovery,” he stressed.  Since 2012 would be marked by a key global event, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the Commission should aim to strengthen the social pillar of sustainable development, which addressed issues of resources and opportunities, social justice and equity, participation and empowerment.  “The real wealth of nations occurs when each and every individual has access to a decent job and educational opportunity, quality and affordable health care, adequate and nutritious food, secure shelter and social protection.”


He said that as Secretary-General of “ Rio+20”, he had emphasized the need for Member States to focus on how a green economy could best contribute to job creation and poverty eradication.  A stronger emphasis on strengthening the social pillar of sustainable development could help the Commission contribute to shaping “the future we want” — one in which social justice prevailed, and all individuals benefited from sustained growth and globalization, while protecting the environment.  In that vein, he expressed hope that a bold set of policies could be laid out, including ones intended to strengthen the ability of countries to address the multiple dimensions of poverty; enhance the social pillar of sustainable development; advance the goals of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty; and reduce inequalities, among other goals.


Introduction of Reports


DANIELA BAS, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the following reports of the Secretary-General:  Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (document E/CN.5/2012/2); Poverty eradication (document E/CN.5/2012/3); Preparations for and observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family in 2014 (document A/67/61–E/2012/3); Second review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002 (document E/CN.5/2012/5); and Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda (document E/CN.5/2012/6).  She also presented a note by the Secretary-General on Monitoring of the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (document E/CN.5/2012/7), and a note by the Secretariat titled “Emerging issues:  youth:  poverty and unemployment” (document E/CN.5/2012/8).


WINIFRED DOHERTY, Chair, NGO Committee for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held yesterday, saying that, among other things, it had discussed key issues relating to social protection, the global financial architecture, military spending, climate change, agricultural development and the development of a green economy.  The Forum’s subsequent recommendations included:  that all stakeholders — including Governments, civil society and people living in poverty — collaborate on programmes addressing the root of poverty, promoting systemic change and eliminating inequalities; that all Governments adopt and implement the Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, presented by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights; and that all Governments provide public investments in physical and social infrastructures, an enabling environment and the necessary resources for agricultural production and distribution.


She said the Forum had also recommended that all national budgets include an allocation amounting to 4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to a universal social protection floor for citizens; that all Governments redirect 2 per cent of their present military allocations to development budgets; and that they implement a financial transaction tax as an innovative source of financing, specifically for development and adaptation to climate change.  It had further recommended that the General Assembly take the necessary steps to establish a Global Economic Council, to be charged with building consensus among Governments on enhancing global economic governance; and that all Governments include the “triple bottom line” — social, economic and environmental — in both their policy assessments and their investment planning.


KAREN HAEKKERUP, Minister for Social Affairs of Denmark, spoke on behalf of the European Union, noting that the increased risks of poverty and social exclusion reflected the social impact of the crisis that many countries were facing.  In the European Union alone, some 116 million people were considered at risk, with youth and other vulnerable groups disproportionately affected by the crisis and requiring special attention.  Urgent action was needed, she said, stressing the crucial importance of placing economic growth, job creation and social cohesion at the centre of macroeconomic policies.  Employment, poverty reduction and social inclusion were at the core of the “Europe 2020” strategy, which was based on the fundamental conviction that economic and social objectives contributed to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.


The European Union had set a target of reducing by at least 20 million the number of people living at risk of poverty and social exclusion by the year 2020, she said, adding that the goal would be achieved through the implementation of the flagship European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion initiative.  Such policies worked to prevent the transmission of poverty through generations, and to tackle child poverty, including through education programmes, support for a green economy, adequate employment schemes, inclusive labour markets and quality social services.  The European Union’s actions also related to the quality of social services, inequalities in health care, homelessness and exclusion from housing.  They also aimed to reduce the gender income gap and to address the specific forms of discrimination faced by people with disabilities, among other things.  “Fighting poverty does not necessarily mean spending more,” she said.


Indeed, she continued, the upcoming decade was likely to be marked by reduced public budgets, and a key shift must therefore be towards greater efficiency, combined with effectiveness and fairness.  Realizing the Millennium Development Goals remained the first priority of the European Union and its member States, she said, adding that the targets could be achieved if all partners demonstrated strong political commitment and implemented the actions necessary to ensure concrete progress.  It was also important to identify innovative sources of financing at the global level, and to mobilize the domestic resources of developing countries themselves.  In that context, the European Union strongly supported efforts to extend social protection systems, and welcomed related initiatives such as the United Nations social protection floors, promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  This year the bloc would present its “Communication on Social Protection in Development Cooperation”, which would lay out the role that European Union development cooperation would play in supporting and strengthening social policies and systems.


Statements


MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said “Rio+20” would provide an opportunity to strengthen the social development pillar in general and poverty eradication in particular.  Expressing deep concern that more than 1 billion people still lived below the poverty line, and that eradicating extreme poverty and hunger remained one of the most difficult Millennium Development Goals to attain, he reaffirmed the Group’s strong commitment to continuing implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and its Programme of Action, as well as the other social development initiatives adopted by the General Assembly at its twenty-fourth special session.


He expressed serious concern about the ongoing financial and economic crisis, the food crisis and continuing food insecurity, volatile energy and commodity prices, and climate change, which had exacerbated the already dire situation of global poverty reduction and could further undermine the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.  He underscored the importance of addressing the main impediments to the eradication of poverty — unemployment, inequality, instability, family disintegration and armed conflicts.


For economic growth to contribute to poverty reduction, macroeconomic and social policies should focus on creating jobs, reducing inequalities and providing social protection, he continued.  Investing in agriculture, rural development and climate change adaptation and mitigation was vital to improving food security and reducing poverty, he said, adding that there was also a need for a development-oriented strategy focused on building rural infrastructure, bolstering income and basic services and investing in education.  All segments of society, including youth, the elderly and people with disabilities, must have access to resources and opportunities, he stressed.


He said the Group of 77 and China would present a draft resolution on the preparations for and observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, to take place later this year.  Expressing hope that the current session would discuss ways to implement the Madrid Plan of Action, he also welcomed the outcome document of the United Nations High-level Meeting on Youth:  Dialogue and Mutual Understanding, held in July, and called on stakeholders to address fully the challenges currently facing youth.  He also called on all Member States as well as other stakeholders to capitalize on the International Year of Cooperatives as a way to promote cooperatives and raise awareness of their contributions to socio-economic development and poverty eradication.


RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said what was most invaluable in a society was the opportunity for development given to the individual.  Poverty eradication remained the overarching goal of national and international development efforts, and the Caribbean Community was not fighting that battle “from the high ground”.  Due to their small size, dispersed population and economies, their remoteness from international markets and other factors, its member States were vulnerable to external economic shocks and to natural disasters, he said, adding that they were particularly troubled by further constraints on their fight against poverty, which had arisen from the world financial and economic crises.


Describing the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals as an active work in progress in the Caribbean, he said the region had designed and implemented domestic and regional policies aimed at eradicating poverty, but against the backdrop of numerous challenges, their efforts were not sufficient to manage the problem adequately.  The fulfilment of comprehensive poverty-eradication measures therefore lay with the global collective community.  Nevertheless, the Caribbean Community member States would not lose focus on that mission, he stressed, adding that they would continue to work through United Nations frameworks and organizations with a view to overcoming challenges and producing effective results.


MATEO ESTREME (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said its member countries had been working towards a common strategic vision of democratic institutions, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and regional integration.  That entailed the implementation of programmes to ensure access to education, decent work and health care for all citizens.  The MERCOSUR Governments were committed to human development and people-centred socio-economic policies focused on equality and social justice, he said.  They were also committed to inclusive development and focused on creating jobs, while ensuring food security, social promotion and the protection of vulnerable groups such as children, women and the elderly.  Regional policies were focused on poverty eradication, humanitarian assistance, and ensuring universal access to public health-care and decent work for all.


Since 2003 the Argentine Government had instituted social integration policies that had enabled it to slash poverty and promote equality, he said.  It was also focused on early policy responses to global crises.  The result had been nine solid years of gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which had increased by 9.2 per cent in 2011, he said, adding that per capita GDP had jumped by 55.4 per cent since 2003.  That had not only minimized the impact of the economic crisis, it had also encouraged the recovery of the growth that had occurred prior to the global economic crisis, he said, adding that the Government had instituted programmes to promote decent work for all, with the aim of improving the quality of life for families in poor neighbourhoods through social protection and educational aid.


He noted that 68 per cent of Argentina’s cooperatives were run by people under the age of 40.  As part of its policies to protect vulnerable groups, the Government had provided monthly stipends of $62.5 each for some 3.56 million children since 2009, he said.  In May 2011, it had begun issuing monthly stipends to pregnant women, starting from their third trimester of pregnancy until they had given birth.  That measure had helped to reduce extreme poverty among girls under the age of 18 while increasing school enrolment rates by 20 per cent.  Since the second quarter of 2003, poverty in Argentina had fallen by 82.6 per cent, while extreme poverty had declined by 88.3 per cent, he said.


YURY VORONIN, Secretary of State and Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, said the global community was still struggling to emerge from the global financial and economic crises, noting that the Russian economy’s recovery had only reached two thirds of its pre-crisis levels.  However, the country had managed the crisis better than many, and had been the only one to raise pension payments at its height.  Almost 98 per cent of households were able to access basic services, and extreme poverty was not widespread, he said, adding that homelessness had been reduced two-fold since 2002.


He said his country was undertaking consistent efforts to reduce poverty, inequality and social marginalization, in particular by broadening social support measures, raising wages and paying special attention to families with children.  Further raising the quality of life was a priority, he stressed.  A mid-term plan to increase the minimum wage was in place, and real incomes should double by 2015, when the wages of those in low-paying jobs would increase more quickly.  In particular, State policies would further the growth of economic activity and the mobility of able-bodied populations, while creating an effective system of support for vulnerable segments of the population, he said.  The Russian Federation was also working towards full employment and increasing the number of better-paying jobs, he added.


JARMO VIINANEN ( Finland) said that his country’s domestic and international policy stressed human rights and the goals of reducing poverty, inequality and marginalization.  Expressing concern over the tendency of passing poverty and social exclusion down from one generation to the next, he said that chain must be broken.  Labour market measures, fair taxation and social protection must take inclusion, decent work and social justice into account.  Young men and women were most at risk of being marginalized, he said, adding that Finland had tackled youth unemployment by launching a social guarantee project for them.  Everyone under the age of 25 and every recent graduate under the age of 31 was offered a job or educational opportunity within three months of becoming unemployed, he said.


There was a need to pay more attention to the links between social, environmental and economic sustainability, which were not sufficiently covered in the draft Rio outcome document, he pointed out.  The Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, co-chaired by Finland and South Africa, had made a serious attempt to re-examine those links, he said.  A main conclusion of the Panel’s 30 January report was that equality equalled opportunity, and that inequality and the exclusion of women, youth, the poor and the vulnerable threatened social and environmental sustainability, as well as economic development.  An integrated approach was needed to eradicate absolute poverty and stop environmental degradation, he emphasized, while also underscoring that human rights, equal opportunities for participation, access to basic service and social protection were key prerequisites for socially sustainable development.


LAURIS BEETS, Director, International Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, associated himself with the European Union while declaring:  “Poverty is unacceptable.”  The Netherlands was dedicated to eradicating poverty through its development cooperation policy, he said, noting that, over a period of more than 60 years, his country had built a system to mitigate its more severe forms.  The gradual expansion of that system of social protections had been made possible by expanding financial resources.  Today, social security was an integral part of Dutch society and public expenditure.


Describing employment as a central condition for social protection, he said “the best form of social security remains a decent job”.  However, there was no “one-size-fits-all” model for employment policy and social security.  Instead, employment policy and social security systems should be tailor-made, taking historical, economic and cultural differences between countries into account.  It was also essential that States learn from each other’s experiences, best practices and pitfalls, he said.  Within the European Union, an “open method” of coordination, and the principle of peer review, played an important role in the learning process regarding national employment and social protection policies, he said.  Further stressing the importance of gradually building national social protection floors, he said there was a clear role for the ILO and the Commission for Social Development in that respect.


JEAN-JACQUES ELMIGER (Switzerland) said that one of the main goals of Swiss development cooperation was the integration of developing countries into the global economy and the promotion of sustainable growth in the interest of eradicating poverty.  For poverty reduction actually to result from growth, democratic dialogue must lead to robust and effective social policies in both developing and developed countries, he said.  Improved working conditions and productivity were the main challenges in that context, but decent jobs must also be created.  That required greater policy coherence, including training programmes, the recognition of informally acquired skills and active labour-market policies.  In that light, Switzerland was committed to the ILO Decent Work Agenda, he said.


Social protection was also an integral part of any coherent approach, he said, expressing support for the international development of a basic social protection floor, and calling on all stakeholders to ensure that a standard could be set in June on that issue.  Applying such a standard would require targeted efforts by every country, he said, noting that Swiss cooperation efforts sought to harmonize and improve the effectiveness of development work while ensuring broad-based democratic support among the population as well as greater involvement of all sectors.  To allow all societies to rise to the challenges of coherence and solidarity in their own particular way, Switzerland favoured an integrated approach built on the key commitments of the 1995 Social Summit, with a drive to extend social inclusion and labour-market integration to all members of society, he said.


CHRISTINA GYNNÅ OGUZ, Director, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden, associated herself with the European Union, and said it was horrifying to think that, at the current pace, it would take another 88 years to eradicate extreme poverty.  Sweden agreed fully with the Secretary-General’s report that the creation of full and productive employment and decent work for all should be at the centre of policies for sustained, inclusive and equitable growth.  In that context, she called in particular for gender equality and the empowerment of women, who were disproportionately affected by poverty.  Countries that invested in promoting the social and economic status of women tended to have lower poverty rates, she noted, adding that expanding their participation in all economic sectors accelerated growth.  Young people must also be integrated into the labour market through education, and people with disabilities — another group vulnerable to discrimination and marginalization — required special consideration, she said.


In that vein, women and girls with disabilities faced significantly greater difficulties and experienced inequality in the exercise of their rights, she said.  Work and access to education were crucial in helping women with disabilities to improve their lives.  According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), she noted, only 25 per cent of them participated in the workforce, a situation that must change so that they could contribute to the global economy.  Action should be taken, first by implementing existing norms, instruments and mechanisms, while filling gaps; secondly, by incorporating gender and disability perspectives into the surveillance and monitoring of agreed conventions, policies and goals; thirdly, by mainstreaming disability, particularly a focus on women with disabilities, into the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals and the discussion of possible new targets; and lastly by creating forums, through the Commission for Social Development, to continue those efforts.


MARIA TERESA MERINO DE HART, Director of Social Affairs, Ministry of External Relations of Peru, said efficient economic management had helped her country achieve sustained macroeconomic development, including during times of global economic crisis.  Such policies had enabled Peru to triple its GDP and contain inflation, and it was unacceptable that despite that accomplishment one third of its population, or some 10 million people, still lived in poverty.  For that reason, the Government had made poverty eradication and social inclusion a main priority, she said, noting that Peru’s progress towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals has been significant, but still insufficient.


It was necessary to close existing gaps, mainly in rural areas, where most extreme poverty persisted, she said.  The Government had allocated $12 million for education, health, sanitation and social projects this year, and had increased budgetary spending on basic water, health and energy services in both urban and rural areas by 15 per cent.  However, it was not only a matter of increasing financial resources, she cautioned, stressing that improving Government management was also crucial.  To that end, the Government had created the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, and was in the process of decentralization.  Its greatest challenge now was to develop the technical capacity of regional and local authorities.


She said that during its first six months in office, the current Government had created or expanded social programmes, such as the “65 Pension Programme” that provided economic aid to more than 150,000 adults living in extreme poverty and without pensions.  It had established a loan programme with the intention of granting 25,000 loans by 2016, as well as a programme to give poor people access to loans for emergency medical care.  The Government aimed to provide some 250,000 newborns and infants in extremely poor districts with a new nutritional aid programme by 2016, she said, adding that it would also invest more than $444 million to improve rural preschool, primary and secondary education services.


Panel Discussion


During its afternoon session, the Commission held a panel discussion on the theme “Poverty eradication, taking into account its relationship with social integration and full employment and decent work for all”.  Moderated by Jorge Valero Briceño (Venezuela), Commission Chairman, it featured presentations by Hoda Rashad, Director and Research Professor at the Social Research Centre of the American University in Cairo, Egypt; Armando Barrientos, Professor and Research Director at the Brooks World Poverty Institute in Manchester, United Kingdom; Su Guoxia, Deputy Director at the Department of Policy and Regulations of China’s State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development; and Jesper Oestrup Zwisler, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Affairs of Denmark, who represented Minister Karen Haekkerup.


Mr. VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela) said in opening remarks that the panel would highlight important challenges and key social policy approaches to poverty eradication, and provide a forum for sharing national experiences in poverty reduction.  Reviewing some of the challenges that had contributed to the insufficiency of such efforts to date, he said the deregulation, liberalization, privatization and other restrictive macroeconomic policies pursued by many countries had failed to address the root causes of poverty and their links to inequality.  Socially inclusive policies that addressed the needs of excluded groups could help to avert political instability and create conditions favourable to reducing poverty and hunger.  The need to building on past successes and lessons learned was especially pressing, he said.


Mr. ZWISLER said his country had taken over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a challenging time, given the severe consequences imposed by the global economic and financial crisis on nations around the world.  Fortunately, its worst effects had been mitigated by various social protection systems, and the European Union had now set the ambitious target of lifting 20 million people out of the risk of poverty by 2020.  Indeed, ensuring that social protection schemes protected the most vulnerable groups — in effect, providing a basic social safety net — remained high on the political agenda, but it was also important to ensure that work paid enough to give people the ability to provide for themselves, he said.


Noting that Denmark had been a strong advocate of social protection for decades, he said that universal social protection — in terms of both cash benefits and services — was a key component of the Danish welfare model, which had been created long before Denmark had become an industrialized and developed country.  Today, it was a priority to send the clear message that everyone should have the same possibilities at the outset, and nobody should be “left behind”.  In that vein, he cited the 2010 European Report on Development, which pointed out that social protection was not a luxury available only to developed countries.


As States were called upon to cut back on spending, it was critical to ensure that expenditures were invested wisely and created both jobs and social protection.  The role of social protection schemes was two-fold — on the one hand, they were safety nets for people in need, and on the other, they had great value as economic stabilizers.  For those reasons, he welcomed European Union discussions on improving social protection systems, as well as the debate within ILO on the “social protection floor”.  The broad international consensus in support of a social protection floor was also encouraging, he added, noting that such an instrument would be important for reducing poverty and inequality, as well as sustaining economic growth.


Ms. RASHAD cautioned that the progress achieved in poverty eradication was fragile and could easily be reversed.  Describing Egypt’s experience with economic growth, she said it had occurred “hand-in-hand with social dissatisfaction”, attributable to the uneven distribution of growth and high unemployment levels.  That had led to a movement towards social reform, in the mid-2000s, but the anticipated social impacts were not materializing, and poverty levels had not changed drastically, she said.  Many believed that poverty eradication efforts were politically motivated, and that such initiatives lacked overall ownership.  Such an experience raised questions about political agendas, accountability and the role of democracy in poverty reduction efforts, she added, emphasizing:  “Growth is not equal to progress.”


Like Egypt, many countries needed to integrate engagement with implementation, she continued.  Highlighting three impediments to such an integrated approach, she cited the absence of institutional capacity, the dearth of practical tools and the need for greater engagement by civil society and academia.  Many countries lacked an environment conducive to those three factors, and there remained an urgent need for an effective accountability modality, she said, citing, in that vein, the positive experience of Mexico, where impact evaluations were regularly presented to Parliament and follow-up mechanisms were in place.


Emphasizing that a social justice framework should be embedded in public policies, she said the root causes of poverty must be addressed, and “unfair economic arrangements” removed.  Moreover, an “equity lens” was needed for all development targets, including the Millennium Development Goals.  Concluding that poverty alleviation was a human right, she reminded delegates that all Governments could do better by adopting social justice frameworks which included respect for rights, inclusive participation and good governance.


Mr. BARRIENTOS described the rapid growth of social protection systems in developing countries, and the impact they were having on poverty reduction efforts.  In general, social policy included several elements — the provision of basic services, insurance programmes, social assistance and labour market policies that sought to improve the quality of employment.  In recent years, social protection was the segment that had increased most dramatically, he said.  It was critical to the fight against poverty, he said, noting that some referred to the recent growth of social protection as a “quiet revolution”.


He went on to say that up to 1 billion people in developing countries had been reached by assistance transfers for poverty alleviation.  The reach of such programmes represented a great shift in a very short time, he said, pointing out that transfer formats varied across countries, ranging from direct cash transfers to programmes that integrated transfers with other dimensions of support, such as employment or education.  In most social protection programmes, the focus rested on the household, in contrast to more traditional forms of assistance, which focused on the individual.


Addressing the capacity of such programmes actually to reduce poverty, he said countries with high growth rates were far more likely than others to succeed in reducing poverty.  It was important to focus on the medium- and long-term impact of assistance programmes, he said, stressing that generational reductions in poverty were often influenced by social protection schemes that included education and other interventions.  Indeed, long-term institutions were more effective in reducing poverty than development programmes.  Finally, he said there remained a substantial deficit in resources and capacity for the implementation of social protection programmes, and in that context, there was a role for international assistance, but also for domestic financing, which could maintain programmes after they were initiated.  Domestic financing also provided social protection programmes with legitimacy and long-term stability, he pointed out.


Ms. GUOXIA, sharing aspects of her country’s experience with poverty reduction, said the country had long been working to improve its poverty alleviation scheme, in particular by creating policies with uniquely Chinese characteristics.  In that respect, China’s policies were driven by economic development and led by the Government, with society providing support, she said, adding that they combined universal and targeted welfare policy.


One fundamental element of China’s poverty reduction scheme was assistance transfers and subsidies for farmers, she said, noting that the country had recently rescinded agricultural taxes and was reinforcing infrastructure development in rural areas.  It had also increased targeted support to farmers and people in poor and rural areas.  In the last 10 years, the annual growth rate of per capita income for farmers had exceeded the national average, she said, adding that the Government had worked to alleviate poverty through regional development.


She went on to emphasize that China prioritized improving the livelihoods of those living in poverty.  The Government had established a “minimum living standard” that covered more than 53 million rural people, she said.  It was also committed to institutional innovation, and had implemented medium- and long-term programmes to lift millions of people out of poverty.  Accountability mechanisms had been established at different levels of government, and over the last decade, 120,000 villages had been involved in a “village planning programme”.  Microcredit was frequently provided, she added.  Through all those efforts, China had made significant progress in alleviating poverty, including its realization of Millennium Development Goal One, which focused on reducing poverty and hunger.


During the ensuing discussion, delegates stressed the need for a multidimensional approach to poverty reduction, and urged countries to learn from each others’ experiences and best practices.  Many speakers, including the representative of Mexico, described national efforts that had resulted in reduced poverty levels, and emphasized the need to integrate such poverty reduction schemes into formal, institutional policies.  Others echoed the panellists to the effect that the world’s economic slowdown could not be allowed to reduce assistance for development.  In that vein, the representative of Senegal stressed that solidarity was one of the key ways in which global poverty would be eradicated.


The representative of Botswana posed several questions to the panellists, seeking additional information on the sustainability of cash-transfer programmes, particularly during the current economic uncertainly.  He asked whether vulnerable people might indeed find themselves “in the lurch” as a result of the global credit crunch, and said he was also worried about the onset of a “dependency syndrome” on the part of developing countries.


Mr. BARRIENTOS responded by agreeing with Mexico’s representative that providing integrated approaches to poverty reduction was most effective, particularly in preventing the future incidence of poverty.  Regarding cash transfers, especially in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, he said some countries had been employing such programmes for a long time, and had much knowledge of how they could be most effective.  But in other countries, the idea of providing direct transfers to families was relatively new; they must be careful about identifying recipients and ensuring that financial systems worked effectively enough to support cash transfers, he cautioned.  There was also some political opposition to cash transfers due to worries about increasing dependency on foreign aid, he said.  Nonetheless, the most important issue was that of providing regular and sustainable assistance.


In a second round of questions, several civil society representatives voiced their concerns, with a representative of HelpAge International pointing out that 80 per cent of older people had no regular income, were disproportionately poor and lacked access to health care and essential services.  She asked what concrete steps the international community should take to implement and finance social protection floors, and what could be done to ensure the rights of older people on the same footing as those of other vulnerable groups.


A representative of the International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation proposed that Governments invest at least 4 per cent of GDP in social protection initiatives.  Citing an ILO study that demonstrated the potential of such a minimum level of investment to inhibit poverty significantly, she suggested that Governments redirect a percentage of military spending to social protection programmes.


A representative of the International Association of Applied Psychology asked whether any research had been conducted on the effect of poverty reduction on an entire nation and on the behaviour of people who were not poor.  The President of the International Council on Social Welfare asked how civil society could be involved in creating social protection floors.


Ms. GUOXIA agreed with a proposal to develop standard benchmark indicators for measuring poverty in order to compile international comparative data.


Ms. RASHAD said Governments had significantly improved the methodologies for measuring poverty eradication, and many were now conducting regular surveys and small area studies, such as those proposed by the World Bank.  Almost all countries had set up their own national poverty lines, in addition to the standard $1.25 per day set by the United Nations to track implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  Poverty, however, was a moving target and the benchmark for measuring it changed according to the level of development, she noted.


Responding to a question from the representative of the International Council on Social Welfare, she said Governments should indeed ensure that civil society and academia were more involved in efforts to create social protection floors.  In response to questions from the representative of Botswana, she said nations tailored cash-transfer programmes to their own special circumstances.


Mr. ZWISLER, responding to questions on ageing and the rights of the elderly, recalled that a two-day conference had been held in Denmark last month to launch 2012 as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.  The Year, which aimed to raise awareness of active ageing, especially in employment, participation in society and independent living by older people, would encourage stakeholders and policymakers to set commitments in those areas and take concrete action, such as enacting legislative reform and new strategies to reduce poverty among the elderly.


* *** *


*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4778 of 18 February 2011.


For information media • not an official record