7 February 2013
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4801

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

Commission for Social Development

Fifty-first Session

5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)


Commission For Social Development, in Second Day of Session, Urges Governments


To Ensure Decent Jobs as Protection Against Poverty

 


Panel Discussion Considers Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing


Governments must promote policies aimed at providing decent jobs as protection against poverty — which a delegate described as “the source of all ills”, including poor health and stalled economic growth — the Commission for Social Development heard today as it explored linkages between empowerment and poverty eradication.


“The best protection against poverty and social exclusion is a job,” said, Rudolf Hundstorfer, Austria’s Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection.  Noting that his Government had taken a wide range of measures to reduce unemployment since the outbreak of the current crisis, he said Austria had the lowest jobless rate in the European Union, at 4.3 per cent, and its labour market policy aimed to increase the participation of socially disadvantaged people facing a high risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as youth, older people, women and persons with disabilities.


Mr. Hundstorfer, who was among 26 speakers in the general debate, went on to describe how Austria was seeking to ensure that no young person was left out of school, training or the labour market.  The Government offered every young person turning 18 years of age an apprenticeship in a company or non-company training centre.  “A well-organized and well-functioning welfare State is the foundation of a country’s wealth, security and stability,” he said, adding that the European social model, with its strong focus on sustainable social protection systems and social dialogue, laid an essential foundation for solidarity and social justice.


Echoing the Minister’s point about the linkage between poverty and social inclusion, Foreign Minister Carlos Roverssi Rojas of Costa Rica said:  “Fighting poverty is not just about bringing materials, but about integrating the poor in society.”  He stressed the need to understand the topic in a comprehensive manner, saying that efforts to ensure human rights in terms of combating extreme poverty were fundamental to freeing people from suffering.


The representative of Comoros, speaking for the African Group, said poverty was “the source of all ills”, contributing to disease, low economic growth, moral degradation, human trafficking and drug addiction, among other things.  It represented a general threat to success and prosperity, he added.  Noting that more than 1 billion people around the world still lived below the poverty threshold, with the Millennium Development Goals deadline just two years away, he said eradicating poverty remained one of the more difficult Goals to meet.


Israel’s representative said the secret of his country’s success could be summarized in two words:  empowered people.  Israel was a nation of pioneers who had taken their destiny into their own hands, transforming it in just 60 years from a developing country into a powerhouse of technological innovation.  Israel worked to empower women, youth and marginalized groups, he said, adding that its Agency for International Development Cooperation used targeted skills training programmes to bring the power of entrepreneurship to all corners of the world.


The representative of the Netherlands was among several speakers who described “empowerment” as a complex concept, saying it entailed social, economic, political, educational and legal aspects.  Strongly related to making use of the potential of individuals and groups, it was also concerned with human dignity, he said.  In addition, empowerment touched on matters relating to labour markets, education and effective use of new communications technology, as well as to institutions and good governance.


China’s representative concurred, saying:  “Talking about empowerment in isolation from economic development will only be futile as it won’t resolve the difficulties faced by countries in their social development.”    China attached great importance to social development and, since the country’s reform and opening, had slashed the number of people living in poverty by more than 500 million.  China had also been the first developing country to attain the global poverty-reduction target ahead of schedule, he said, noting that over the past five years, it had created jobs for 45 million people in urban areas.


Victor Rivarola, Paraguay’s Minister for Social Affairs, was among several speakers from the Latin America and Caribbean region who discussed how social programmes like monetary transfers to the poor were helping them realize their rights to food, health care and education.  Investing in such programmes was not mere charity, he emphasized, pointing out that it made sense because poor families also had responsibilities to meet.  The beneficiaries were not merely passive recipients of State aid, but active agents in their own lives.


During its afternoon session, the Commission held a panel discussion on the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.  Panellists presented the outcomes of various regional dialogues on the topic and explored ways to secure health care, pension and employment for the elderly, the proportion of whom was growing in each of the world’s regions.


Also participating in today’s general discussion were ministers from Ukraine and France, as well as high-level Government officials from Finland and the Netherlands.


Representatives of Ukraine, Russian Federation, South Africa, Italy, Japan, Denmark, El Salvador, Brazil, Egypt, Botswana, Cuba, Colombia, Switzerland, Ecuador, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Spain also spoke, as did the African Union’s Commissioner for Social Affairs.


The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 8 February, to hold a panel discussion on the social dimension in the global development agenda beyond 2015.


Background


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to continue its general debate on the current session’s primary theme “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all.”  (See Press Release SOC/4799/Rev.1 and SOC/4800 of 6 February)


Statements


ROUBANI KAAMBI (Comoros), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, described poverty as “the source of all ills”, saying it contributed to disease, poor economic growth, moral degradation, human trafficking and drug addiction among other things, and represented a general threat to success and prosperity.  The African Group was profoundly concerned to note that more than 1 billion people still lived below the poverty threshold, he said, adding that, with the Millennium Development Goals deadline a mere two years away, eradicating poverty remained one of the more difficult Goals to meet.  The implementation of the Copenhagen commitments and the achievement of internationally agreed goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, were intimately linked, he emphasized.


The Copenhagen commitments were central to a “human-centred” approach, he continued, adding that the theme of the current present session was, therefore, well chosen.  Looking forward to the period after 2015, he said the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other partners had launched a number of regional and subregional initiatives with a view to forming a common African position on the post-2015 development agenda, including subregional consultations, with the involvement of a wide array of stakeholders.  Those discussions had produced three main goals:  transforming economic structures and promoting inclusive growth; innovation and transfer of technology; and human development.  Improving local governance, strengthening institutional capacities, and a credible, participatory approach, together with cultural awareness, were all critical to achieving those aims.


He went on to discuss specific regional initiatives in the areas of young people, older people, families and persons with disabilities.  On the latter, for example, he said the African Union had implemented the African Decade for Persons with Disabilities, focusing on strengthening regional cooperation.  The goal was for ministries, international organizations, representative groups and others to ensure full participation, equality and empowerment for persons with disabilities on the continent.  However, an assessment of the progress made had found that, out of 68 million persons with disabilities in Africa, only 1 to 2 per cent had access to health care and education.  Africa, therefore, looked forward to the High-level Meeting on Persons with Disabilities, to be held during the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly, which would provide a chance to consider a global strategy for mainstreaming disability into the development agenda.


RUDOLF HUNDSTORFER, Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria, associated himself with the European Union.  Noting that “the best protection against poverty and social exclusion is a job”, he said that since the outbreak of the current crisis, the Austrian Government had taken a wide range of measures to reduce unemployment.  The country had the lowest jobless rate in the European Union at 4.3 per cent, and a special focus of its labour market policy was increasing the participation of socially disadvantaged members of society facing a high risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as young people, older people, women and persons with disabilities.  Austria’s core goal was that no young person should be left out of school and training, or the labour market, he said.


Recalling that the Government had guaranteed employment and training for young people since 2008, he said that, at the age of 18, every young person was offered an apprenticeship in a company or non-company training centre.  Austria was investing an additional €600 million in labour market projects through 2016 to support continued employment for nearly 200,000 older workers, he said, adding that the Government had also introduced a “means-tested minimum income scheme” to combat poverty and social exclusion.  Roughly 90,000 people had claimed means-tested minimum income benefits in the last two years.  “A well-organized and well-functioning welfare State is the foundation of a country’s wealth, security and stability,” he said, adding that the European social model, with its strong focus on sustainable social protection systems and social dialogue, laid an essential foundation for solidarity and social justice.


VICTOR RIVAROLA, Minister for Social Affairs of Paraguay, said that one of his Government’s main priorities was to improve the living conditions of Paraguayans, including through the eradication of poverty and ensuring social inclusion.  The social policies of South American Governments had reached more than 25 million families throughout the region, which demonstrated their efficacy.  The most “resounding” piece of data was the sustained increase in Paraguay’s social investment, he said, pointing out that the general budget reflected a 180 per cent increase in social spending over 2008.  “[Social programmes] are sustainable over time, as they never have been before,” he said.


He went on to say that one of Paraguay’s most emblematic current social programmes was one providing monetary transfers to the poor.  It aimed gradually to ensure the social inclusion of poor families and to help them realize their rights to food, health care and education.  The programme also had a component covering persons with disabilities, he said, emphasizing that investing in that programme was not mere charity, but made sense because poor families also had responsibilities to meet.  “This gives meaning and efficacy to the programme.”  The beneficiaries were not merely passive recipients of State aid, but active agents in their own lives, he stressed.  Paraguay had initiated “citizen participation bureaus” to undertake monitoring and social auditing of the programme, and 14 such bureaus were planned for other social programmes across the country.


CARLOS ROVERSSI ROJAS, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, stressed the need to understand the topic under discussion in a comprehensive manner on the basis of many variables, saying efforts to ensure human rights in terms of combating extreme poverty were fundamental to freeing people from suffering.  “Fighting poverty is not just about bringing materials, but about integrating the poor in society,” he said.  With the country facing organized crimes and other challenges, he stressed the crucial need to invest in social development so that people could live in dignity while enjoying the freedom to make decisions necessary for a decent life.  He went on to highlight the importance of transparent and accountable democratic institutions.  Measures taken in Costa Rica included the provision of compulsory education funded by the Government and universal social security.  The country had made progress in development, but had yet to consolidate its gains, he said.


MARKIYAN KULYK, Minister for XXXXX of Ukraine, said that concrete social development measures were demonstrated by his country’s comprehensive programme of decent work in public service, its social policy and the establishment of an all-Ukrainian association of trade unions, among other things.  Economic competition should not take priority over social rights, and the minimum wage level must be in line with the subsistence minimum.  An important field of activity was reducing social inequality by introducing a socially fair tax system, since the current tax system still did not fully enshrine the principle of equality, he said.  Indeed, the poor paid 50 times more taxes than the rich.  In addition, the federation of trade unions was looking to stimulate the labour market, he said, adding that a new labour law would be on the table later this year.  It would incorporate the best practices and lessons learned from other States around the world, he said.


RALF EKEBOM, Ministerial Adviser for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, recalled that early this year, his Government had started implementing a youth inclusion scheme that guaranteed each person under 25 years of age and recent graduates under the age of 30 either work, training, study, or labour market rehabilitation within three months of having been registered as an unemployed jobseeker.  Noting that Finland’s new Development Policy Programme of 2012 promoted core human rights principles such as universality, equality, participation and non-discrimination, he said that would allow for more intense participation by civil society organizations, such as disabled people’s organizations, in implementing development policy.  A new law on services for the elderly had been enacted this year to reinforce society’s responsibility for the rights and needs of older people and to support their dignity, functional capacities and active participation.  “The challenge that we all have in common, however, is the reduction of inequalities,” he said, saying the topic should be placed at the centre of discussions on the purpose and goals of the global post-2015 development agenda.


MARIE-CHRISTINE COENT, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of France, associated herself with the European Union.  She said that focusing on empowerment was to increase the capacity of individuals, allowing them to participate in all aspects of society.  That empowerment depended on enabling policies.  “We have to face the scourge of unemployment,” she stressed, pointing out that many people, especially young people, were unemployed or working in the informal economy.  The International Labour Conference’s call to action in fighting unemployment for youth was a first step, and now was the time to make that effort concrete.  “We must rebalance growth so that all can have access to employment,” she added.


Youth employment was a priority in France, she continued, describing two key relevant programmes.  “Employment for the future” targeted young people, providing their first jobs and training, and the “Generations contract” established a system of mentorship programmes.  Empowerment also looked at ensuring lasting social inclusion for workers and families, she noted, adding that social protection was critical as it could act as a “shock absorber” in times of crisis.  Important recent gains in social protection, including through the recommendation adopted by the last International Labour Conference, called for “national pillars of social protection”, she recalled, noting that the recommendation also underlined the need to cover people in both the formal and informal economies.  “We must also make sure that social protection comes with the social development plans of our States.”


WANG MIN ( China) said that with the world economy’s recovery still fragile, the interlinked problems of financial crisis, regional unrest and natural disasters posed unprecedented challenges to social development.  Hunger, disease and poverty continued to beset many developing countries.  Development remained fundamental to solving social problems and the social dimension of that agenda should, thus, be integrated into the post-2015 phase, for which an effective transition should be secured.  The three core objectives of poverty eradication, social integration and full employment were as relevant today as they had been when put forward at the World Summit on Social Development in 1995, he said.  Eliminating discrimination and injustice was integral to inclusive growth, and efforts in that regard should be advanced comprehensively in the context of national conditions, he added.


He went on to say that sustained economic growth and material well-being would help to address social development challenges and provide a more enabling environment for empowerment.  “Talking about empowerment in isolation from economic development will only be futile as it won’t resolve the difficulties faced by countries in their social development,” he stressed.  China attached great importance to social development and, since the country’s reform and opening, it had slashed the number of people living in poverty by more than 500 million.  China had also been the first developing country to attain the global poverty-reduction target ahead of schedule, he said, noting that over the past five years, it had created jobs for 45 million people in urban areas.  The Government also provided nine years of compulsory education, and had established a basic medical and health-care system, as well as a basic insurance system for urban and rural residents.


LAURIS BEETS, Director of International Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, described “empowerment” as a complex concept entailing social, economic, political, educational and legal aspects.  Strongly related to making use of the potential of individuals and groups, it was also concerned with human dignity.  In addition, empowerment touched on matters related to labour markets, education and effective use of new communications technology, as well as to institutions and good governance.  In all that, the Netherlands saw social protection and decent work for all as the heart of United Nations social policy initiatives, he said.


With that in mind, he said that social protection served twin social and economic goals in that it could support labour market flexibility while also serving as a stabilizing factor in times of economic shock or socio-economic change.  “The link between social protection and employment is a vital one; the best form of social security remains a decent job,” he said, stressing:  “This is an important principle for empowerment.”  While there was no “one-size-fits-all” prescription, the Netherlands backed the principles cited in the International Labour Organization (ILO) recommendations on national social protection floors, adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2012.  Implementing the recommendation would require stronger cooperation among relevant global intuitions and mechanisms, such as the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the G-20, as well as ILO.


VITALY KOLBANOV ( Russian Federation) stressed the vital importance of accelerating efforts towards meeting full employment and social integration goals, and reiterated his delegation’s wish to support for agreed social development goals in the areas of ageing, disability and family.  The Secretary-General’s report rightly noted the need to enhance the quality of life for those groups.  The Russian Federation was taking steps to implement the concept of decent work developed by the ILO, including such measures as investing in vocational education.  The Government’s goal was to create 25 million highly skilled jobs with greater productivity and higher pay.  Noting the demographic shift occurring in his country, he said the working population was decreasing in proportion as the ranks of older people grew.  The Government sought to build a sustainable pension system, he said.  The Russian Federation would hold the G-20 presidency this year and wished to focus on addressing key economic and financial challenges around the world, he said.  In July, it would host a meeting in Moscow to discuss job creation and decent work, among other topics.


DOCTOR MASHABANE (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that, in an environment of financial austerity, “we face the daunting task of financing key social development programmes across all regions and continents, framed by a still fragile global economic recovery”.  While many African countries could be said to have recorded impressive recent economic growth, recovery remained fragile, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty was both extreme and endemic.  Universal access to basic social protection and social services was important in empowering people and represented an effective safeguard against poverty and inequality, he said.


He recalled that since the advent of democracy in 1994, South Africa had “waged a tireless war on poverty” through the adoption of progressive and inclusive social policies, including its National Development Plan of 2012.  A progressive and enabling legislative and policy framework had also been adopted, as had programmes to address the realities of a growing ageing population.  White papers were being finalized in the areas of family and persons with disabilities.  Finally, he said that, in a deliberate effort to close the youth unemployment gap, the Government had over the years made strides in expanding access to institutions of higher education, and currently allocated 21 per cent of the national budget to education.


RAFFAELE TANGORRA (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said the sovereign debt crisis in Europe had forced many countries, including Italy, to adopt the austerity measures needed to win back the confidence of financial markets.  “While these measures were needed, they left very limited room for increased social spending,” he noted.  In 2011, Italy had seen an increase of 2.5 million in cases of severely materially deprived people, the largest such increase in the European Union.  Youth unemployment was also at a historical high.  In the Italian context, the family and charitable organizations were two very important components of the social safety net, he said.  However, the system was ill-equipped to address the needs of the most vulnerable, and Italy had no national form of insurance support of last resort once unemployment benefits expired.


In response, the country was preparing to test an innovative programme to redesign the so-called social card in the country’s 12 largest cities, he said, explaining that the prepaid debit card, first introduced in 2008, was for the purchase of food and the payment of utility bills.  He went on to explain further that under the new programme, income support would be increased as part of a more personalized project to empower the recipients.  Through a network of local services, the programme would also offer access to resources and help in finding jobs, training opportunities and school activities for children, among other things.  Italy was a strong supporter of ILO efforts to advance the decent work agenda worldwide, he said, adding that social protection policies were also fundamental to empowerment.


NOA FURMAN ( Israel) said the secret of his country’s success could be summarized in two words:  empowered people.  Israel was a nation of pioneers who had taken their destiny into their own hands, and in just 60 years, transformed it from a developing country into a powerhouse of technological innovation.  Its entrepreneurial spirit lay at the heart of its development cooperation, he said.  At home and abroad, Israel worked to empower women, youth and marginalized groups.  Its Agency for International Development Cooperation, MASHAV, used targeted skills training programmes to bring the power of entrepreneurship to all corners of the world, he said, citing the partnership between the Mount Carmel International Training Center and Haifa Young American Business Trust, which had trained more than 22,000 young people in Latin America.


Special empowerment programmes were also being advanced in Israel, he said.  People with disabilities, for example, were at the heart of the national empowerment agenda, and members of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors of Israeli society were climbing the income ladder.  Around the world, however, cumbersome regulation and failed public policies hampered progress, he noted, emphasizing that, instead of standing in the way of empowerment, laws and regulations should create enabling environments.  The General Assembly’s new resolution on entrepreneurship for development, presented by Israel and nearly 100 co-sponsors, called on Governments to foster entrepreneurship as a means to empower citizens, fight poverty and achieve sustainable development.  Importantly, empowerment policies were not complete unless they included social protection and provided basic entitlements, such as education, health and housing, he stressed.


NAOTO HISAJIMA ( Japan) said Governments, the United Nations system and civil society should cooperate to create environments and implement policies that enabled people living in poverty to participate in society.  Decent work was crucial in that context, he said, noting that globally, some 200 million people were unemployed, with youth particularly burdened.  That challenge affected not only the future and motivation of young people, it also “drags on social stability and development”.  Social integration promoted empowerment, and the Government of Japan would continue to listen to the voices of the vulnerable while seeking to ensure their social integration, he said.


He said that, as the international community worked to achieve cohesive societies, it should undertake measures to promote independence and social participation for persons with disabilities, as well as to respond to the rapidly ageing society by ensuring social protection and adequate health systems.  Education was a priority and, alongside efforts to realize high-quality education, Japan had been implementing a project to improve literacy in Afghanistan.  It had provided assistance to strengthen the Literacy Department of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, now in its second phase of operation.


CARSTEN STAUR (Denmark), associating himself with the European Union, stressed the need to create more inclusive societies in the bloc by utilizing considerable human resources, especially in a time of financial and economic crisis.  “We simply cannot afford not to utilize the resources of differently abled people,” he stressed.  “The Specialists” was a social economic company in Denmark using the specific resources and skills of people with autism and similar challenges.  It prepared working clarifications for people with autism and provided consulting services to businesses in the information technology field.  A leading participant in a global movement to create jobs for people with autism and similar ailments, the company now had operations in Scotland, Iceland, Switzerland, Austria and the United States.  To accommodate the challenges of including persons with disabilities in the labour market, Denmark had reached a political agreement in June 2012 to revise its disability benefits and flexible-job schemes, enabling more citizens to realize their potential, he said.


KARLA LEMUS ( El Salvador), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that, as a show of its commitment, her country had initiated programmes that provided tools for the empowerment of its people.  Agreeing with the President of the Economic and Social Council that empowerment was necessary to ensure that development was successful and sustainable, she said El Salvador’s social policies included a social protection floor, which ensured comprehensive access to social services.  In incorporating a rights-based approach, the system took the different phases of the human life cycle into account, she said, adding that matters of gender, disabilities, and membership in indigenous groups were also examined.


Such efforts were also complemented by sectoral social policies in areas including housing and health care, as well as by several cross-cutting initiatives, she continued.  Describing several programmes that made use of monetary transfers, she said that some 5,000 urban students had received education vouchers, while 91,000 rural families had been provided with vouchers for health and education.  El Salvador also had a temporary income support programme for youth, in addition to training for future jobs.  El Salvador remained committed to building the post-2015 agenda, she said, adding that, institutionally, the country had launched a “process of reflection” on policy for the years ahead.  It was essential to strengthen the tools that would help bring about an effective shared responsibility of all stakeholders in order to achieve “the future we want”, she said.


ALAN SELLOS ( Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, called for broader promotion of social and political empowerment to combat socio-economic inequalities.  Universal access to health and education should be recognized as instrumental to breaking the cycle of poverty, while at the same time, social protection programmes should provide the widest possible coverage, with special attention to vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities and the elderly.  Economic expansion and market forces could not, in themselves, provide solutions to poverty and inequality, he stressed.  As such, inclusive economic policies must be designed to reduce inequalities, create more opportunities and drive growth.  It was also worth underscoring that decent, productive employment was the most effective way to reduce inequality, he said, urging the creation of strong social and economic policies to bolster job creation, income distribution and access to basic public services.


As for Brazil, he said the country had lifted some 40 million people out of poverty over the past decade, largely as a result of consistent public policies combining sustained economic growth with social inclusion.  One of the linchpins of that effort was the “Bolsa Familia” family allowance programme, a conditioned cash-transfer mechanism that provided a monthly stipend to families who committed to keeping their children in school and ensured that they underwent regular health check-ups.  While that initiative had been credited with helping to reduce poverty by 40 per cent, the 2010 census indicated that some 16 million Brazilians still lived below the poverty line.  For that reason, President Dilma Rousseff had launched a comprehensive programme targeting extreme poverty, he said, adding that, in 2012, the Government had launched a new federal programme targeting poor families with children under the age of seven years, which had increased the number of day care centres and enhanced health-care coverage.


OSAMA ABDEL KHALEK (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, noted that, with the 2015 target year for attainment of the Millennium Development Goals less than 1,000 days away, most of the world’s population remained without adequate social protection.  That was most evident in the fact that some 1 billion were undernourished and that, by the time those 1,000 days were up, nearly as many would be living in extreme poverty.  With that stark reality in mind, he said that empowering people was critical to eradicating poverty and achieving broader development objectives.  Education was a key factor in creating an environment in which social and sustainable development could flourish, and that should be accompanied by measures to improve access to public health interventions, create jobs and ensure good governance.


He went on to recall that the outcome of the Rio+20 Summit detailed many actions that should advance empowerment and development, including through job creation, improved access to water, sanitation and energy, enhanced social integration and access to income-generating opportunities, especially for women and youth.  Egypt also welcomed new initiatives aimed at empowering people, such as the Secretary-General’s “Education First” strategy and the United Nations-supported plan to boost economic empowerment for rural women.  As the post-2015 development agenda took shape, the “driving force” of social development must be at its core, he emphasized.  He also called for international support for African countries to create an enabling environment for social development, including by increasing market access and technology transfer, and by providing a comprehensive solution to the continent’s debt burden.


DUKU MASILO ( Botswana) said his country’s poverty eradication programme had led to declines in the number of people living below the poverty line, from 59 per cent in 1985-1986 to 30 per cent in 2002-2003, and 20.7 per cent in 2010-2011.  The scheme had helped 12,000 beneficiaries in the year ending March 2013.  With an annual budget of $19.2 million, it had provided 1,071 poor households with decent shelter.  On socio-economic empowerment, he said the Government had subsidized programmes such as the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development Initiative, which promoted the building of assets, such as small stock and poultry, to help people emerge from poverty.  About $5.9 million had been allocated to that programme for the next fiscal year, ending in March 2014, he said.  Targeting an estimated 50,000 youth who had been out of school and unemployed, the Government was implementing an initiative to reabsorb them into the school system, he said, noting that more than 10,000 young people were back in school, with another 20,000 expected in each of 2013 and 2014.


VILMA THOMAS RAMÍREZ (Cuba) said the reality was that, two years before the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline year, the progress made was uneven and poverty eradication was a battle “that is still far from won”.  Injustice and exclusion were a direct result of the current unfair economic world order, which had marginalized a large number of countries of the global South.  It had made hunger, illiteracy and poor health continuing problems, she said, stressing also that the current global financial and economic crisis had negatively impacted poor countries in particular.  It was, therefore, necessary to broaden both South-South and North-South cooperation, she said, adding that political will must accompany international cooperation, particular on the part of developed countries.


The solution to the crisis hinged not merely on financial resources, but also on global solutions and a “new global financial architecture” that would allow all countries to participate in global trade on an equal footing, she said.  Such measures would help in fighting the “noxious” effects of the global financial and economic crisis.  For its part, Cuba had maintained its quality objectives and social protection schemes despite the long-standing United States blockade, she said.  Among other rights, Cuba’s citizens enjoyed education, health and social assistance, and the country had been able to bring economic growth in step with social development.  “In Cuba, no one will be left to their own designs,” she emphasized, adding that, in solidarity with other developing countries, Cuba sent doctors and other medical professionals around the world.


MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ ( Colombia) said his country was moving towards promoting empowerment in poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work.  Because of its multidimensional nature, empowerment required plans and strategies, including the creation of conditions conducive to the participation of minority and other targeted groups, he said, adding that citizen participation was fundamental to a dignified life.  He also stressed the importance of economic growth to attaining social development, as well as the need for an inclusive society in which people could enjoy their rights regardless of age, sex, place of origin and other differences.  The Government’s policies focused on creating a healthy, educated, employed population due to greater participation.  Colombia’s social expenditure targeted the poorest and most vulnerable people, he said, pointing out that from 2010 to 2011, the poverty rate had dropped from 37.2 per cent to 34.1 per cent, and extreme poverty from 12.3 per cent to 10.6 per cent.


ELMAR D. LEDERGERBER (Switzerland) said there was no truly clear definition of “empowering people”, and expressed hope that the discussion would help Commission members better understand the concept and to define certain key points and challenges regarding empowerment.  The idea was closely linked to ensuring participation, which in turn could only be achieved by promoting competencies.  Education was a key element and a precondition for participation, as it opened the door to economic and social mobility.  Quality education and a professional training system that reflected the economy’s needs were the keys to integration into the labour market, he said.


However, labour markets continued to underperform, and the situation was particularly bleak for young people, with some 74 million people aged 15 to 24 unemployed, she pointed out.  More and more young people found themselves hit by long-term unemployment, and they were losing their faith in the system and drifting away from the labour market.  “Our Commission can set out the path to follow and offer concrete directions to be taken,” he said.  The first direction involved promoting individuals’ rights, access to institutions and equal opportunities.  The second entailed enabling people to take responsibility for their lives and to contribute to decisions that concerned them.  The third concerned the provision of structures and services to support responsibility and not undermine it, he said.


DANIEL FIERRO ( Ecuador) explained how his country’s Constitution had established the rights to “good life” and stressed the need to articulate policy objectives aimed at eradicating poverty and other challenges.  Ecuador had taken many measures to promote social development, including the creation of an environment enabling its citizens to participate in public policymaking.  Different Government institutions had different mechanisms, such as councils, to encourage participation.  Ecuador had a ministry coordinating efforts and activities to address complex issues such as poverty, and among programmes created to help the vulnerable were the Human Development Stipend and the Monetary Transfer.  About 14,000 university students received the stipends, he said, adding monetary transfers had cumulatively reached 1,203,207 people, or 8.3 per cent of Ecuador’s population.  Finally, he stressed the importance of linking social and economic policy to “good life”.


SALEUMXAY KOMMASITH (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that social development required multifaceted approaches involving education, health care, social and gender equality, poverty eradication and employment, among others.  Poverty eradication had a direct link to people’s empowerment, but empowerment did not necessarily lead to poverty eradication, he cautioned, stressing that it must be accompanied by resources and enabling social conditions.


The Government had long been promoting people’s empowerment in poverty eradication, he said, adding that it was making every effort to ensure the rule of law, as well as a people-centred development policy.  The current seventh National Socio-economic Development Plan (2011-2015) contained ambitious goals in that regard, including the attainment of all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  Government expenditure on social sectors such as education and health accounted for some 26 per cent of all national spending.  In order to ensure sustainable social development, the Government had set a target of no less than 8 per cent annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP), he said.


MUSTAPHA KALOKO, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union, said that, from that organization’s perspective, much had been achieved over the past year in the areas of policy and programmes to address the continent’s social development concerns.  The African Union Commission was currently engaged in facilitating implementation of the Social Policy Framework, which addressed priority areas for social and human development in Africa.  In collaboration with the United Nations Institute for Economic Development and Planning, the Commission had trained 28 development planners from 22 African Union member States in August 2012.  He went on to highlight the regional body’s efforts to empower older persons and those with disabilities, and to reduce maternal mortality.  At the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, he recalled, the Commission had called the attention of member States to the demographic changes on the continent, in particular the “youth bulge”, and the potential demographic dividend that awaited them.


RUBÉN UROSA (Spain) said the budget of his country’s Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality had enjoyed a recent increase of more than 28 per cent, which reflected the Government’s commitment to social welfare and the protection of the most vulnerable and dependent members of society.  It had launched the Youth Plan 2013-2015 as a response to the great difficulties faced by young people, many of whom found it impossible to leave their parental homes, or had been forced to return to the homes they had already left.  The Plan incorporated such elements as education, training and vocational guidance, he said, adding that it aimed to find a real connection between those professions that were more in demand and the training on offer.  Spain had set goals for lifting 1.4 to 1.5 million people out of poverty and exclusion by 2020, based on overall European Union targets, he said.  The Government was also promoting policies targeting persons with disabilities or functional limitations, especially those suffering as a result of the current crisis.  In that sense, Spain had contributed some €6.6 million to promote the independence of people with disabilities, he said, also outlining a number of programmes aimed at other vulnerable groups, including the elderly, and reviewing several of Spain’s commitments to promoting social inclusion, non-discrimination and equality for women and men.


Panel Discussion


The Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the report of the Secretary-General on the Second Review and Appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.


Moderated by Carlos Enrique Garcia Gonzalez, Deputy Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nations, it featured presentations by Paurina Mpariwa, Minister for Labour and Social Services of Zimbabwe; Rudolf Hundstorfer, Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria; Xiao Caiwei, Vice-President of the China National Committee on Ageing; Carlos Roverssi Rojas, Deputy Foreign Minister of Costa Rica; and Gisela Nauk of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).


The Moderator said the discussion was aimed at exchanging findings from various regional dialogues on the topic and learning from best practices existing in each region.  He challenged participants to reconsider partnerships among different stakeholders.


Ms. MPARIWA noted that Africa’s age structure was changing dramatically, with the continent projected to experience a faster growth rate in the numbers of older people than any other in the lead-up towards 2050.  Despite high levels of economic growth, there were wide disparities, and older people faced persistently high levels of social exclusion.  The continent’s achievements in that field included the adoption of the Draft African Common Position on the rights of older persons, which recognized ageing as a pertinent and cross-cutting development issue in the region.  In addition, the African Union Commission had finalized a draft protocol on the rights of older persons.  More African nations now recognized ageing as a development policy priority and had put the necessary strategies, policies, legislation and programmes in place, she said.


For its part, Zimbabwe had enacted the Older Persons Act of 2012, she said.  Frameworks were also being established in other countries, such as Mozambique and Ethiopia.  In Gambia, the Department of Social Welfare collaborated with partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO), while Ghana was implementing a cash-transfer programme to extremely poor people and those above 65 years of age.  However, only 10 African countries provided some form of social transfer, such as old-age pensions or disability grants.  Noting that a majority of older persons lacked pensions and social protection, while continuing to work until an advanced age, mostly in the informal sector, she pointed out that most programmes targeted those 65 years of age and above, leaving out those between 60 and 65.


The ECA had noted the incidence of death among the middle generation, especially from HIV/AIDS, which had had multiple impacts on older people as they lost sources of financial support in their old age, she said.  Other challenges included distant facilities, as well as expensive, inadequate or simply unavailable transportation.  Throughout Africa, there was little awareness or recognition of the human rights of older persons, especially older women, she said.  Progress made in some countries had been lost due to lack of political will and policy clarity.  The inclusion of older persons in the development process remained a challenge, she said.


The only way to further implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing was by engaging the public and private sectors, as well as civil society, she continued.  Comprehensive data collection and research on ageing should be made available in order to address barriers such as exclusion and lack of empowerment of older persons, and to provide the groundwork for policymaking and strategies.  In that regard, she stressed the need to ensure the aggregation of data according to sex, as well as recognized rural and urban differences.  Free health services and medication for poor older people should remain a goal, she said, stressing also that international cooperation in the form of training and capacity development was vital.  There was also a need for simple communication materials for the elderly.


Mr. HUNDSTORFER presented the outcome of the Third Ministerial Conference on Ageing of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), held in Vienna, Austria, last September — 30 years after the first World Assembly on Ageing in Vienna and 10 years after the adoption of the International Plan of Action on Ageing.  Some 500 people had attended the Conference, including representatives of 50 ECE member States, 30 of them represented by Ministers, Deputy Ministers or State Secretaries.  Civil society had gathered in two parallel forums to discuss the regional implementation strategy.  Non-governmental organizations had called on Member States on step up monitoring and evaluation of the International Plan of Action’s implementation.  The Conference had unanimously adopted a Declaration calling for concrete steps towards its further implementation in Europe over the next five years, he said.  That entailed steps for sustainable policymaking in respect of older people and for intergenerational solidarity.


He recalled that the discussion had been guided by four priority themes:  promoting longer working life and maintaining workability; participation, non-discrimination and social inclusion of older persons; creating an enabling environment for health, independence and ageing in dignity; and stimulating intergenerational dialogue and solidarity as a shared responsibility.  Emphasizing the need for the labour market to be prepared for a greater number of older workers, he said the right to work in old age called for a change in outlook among both employers and employees.  The potential of older people, as well as their skills, experience and wisdom, were powerful tools for further development.  Furthermore, the Conference Declaration called for the creation of age-friendly workplaces, health promotion, rehabilitation and age management.


Austria had launched “fit2work”, a programme that promoted healthy workplaces and rehabilitation instead of early retirement, underscoring the importance of geriatrics and gerontology, he said.  Special attention must be paid to preventive measures, early diagnosis and treatment, as well as to the need for care, long-term care in particular, and social protection for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  The Declaration also recognized the value of volunteerism, he said, pointing out that voluntary work was widespread in his country, from fire fighting services to sports organizations and cultural institutions.  Nearly 45 per cent of all Austrians did some kind of voluntary work, he added.


Mr. CAIWEI said the Asia-Pacific region was at the forefront of the global ageing phenomenon.  The number of older persons was rising at a pace unmatched by any other region.  Indeed, Asia was home to half of the world’s population, a proportion that would rise to two thirds by 2050.  Moreover, many countries in the region would “grow old before they grow rich”, which had serious economic and social implications, he said.  Increasing old-age dependency ratios meant fewer workers to support a growing number of older persons, and a growing strain on social structures and health-care services.  Older women were particularly vulnerable as they made up most of the numbers of older people and were overrepresented among the region’s poor, he said.


He said the region had undertaken three key preparatory activities prior to the review of the Madrid International Plan of Action.  They included a preparatory meeting organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, held in Beijing in November 2011; a regional intergovernmental survey on progress and challenges concerning implementation of the Madrid Plan; and the Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting held in Bangkok last September.  The regional survey had shown much progress, including the development of national plans on ageing, the establishment of national coordination mechanisms, the participation of older persons in policy formulation and reviews, and the development of community and residential services for older persons.  However, some challenges remained, he said.  They included ensuring dedicated resources for implementing plans and policies, expanding opportunities and social services for older persons, and adopting legislation to protect specific rights of older persons.


Describing several outcomes of the Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting, he said participants had agreed on the fundamental need for policies and legal frameworks recognizing the basic rights of older persons.  They had also agreed that multisectoral policies were needed, and that income security was essential to guaranteeing the dignity and livelihoods of older persons.  Innovative measures were, therefore, needed to broaden employment opportunities and decent work for older people.  Social protection was also needed as most countries in the region lacked comprehensive coverage.  Some countries had successfully introduced universal health-care coverage.  However, maintaining health into old age meant that health systems must take a holistic approach, he cautioned.  The meeting had adopted the “Bangkok Statement”, which called upon Governments to accord priority to addressing the rights of older persons in legal and policy frameworks, ensure coordinated multisectoral responses and mainstream ageing into national policies, paying particular attention to specific vulnerabilities of older persons.


Mr. ROVERSSI addressed advances and challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean, saying that the number of ageing persons in the region would have tripled by 2050.  By 2036, it would eclipse the number of children in the region, he added, noting several challenges in relation to those changes.  First, after years of economic growth, low inflation and democratic progress, there was an emerging need to close social and productive gaps and to consolidate the progress made, he stressed.  Secondly, ageing was not unrelated to the historical inequality that affected the region.  Thirdly, it was necessary to harmonize the rights of the ageing with those of other populations.


While there were challenges, however, there was also progress, he said, pointing out that 17 countries in the region had implemented national policies for the ageing, while others had created organizations to take charge of the elderly in order to broaden resources and improve the quality of their interventions.  A decision had been taken in 2002 to broaden social security, and many countries had made progress in incorporating the elderly into their health plans, he recalled.  Meanwhile, some States had increased the participation of the elderly in decision-making.  Moreover, there had been a paradigmatic shift to leave behind the idea of merely protecting the elderly, in favour of strengthening their autonomy.  Last December, States in the region had also supported the adoption of a General Assembly resolution on the elderly.  The San Jose Charter on the Rights of the Elderly — adopted at the Third Regional Intergovernmental Conference on Ageing, held in May 2012 — provided a road map of progress towards a proactive State in respect of ageing, he said, adding that Costa Rica would host the first follow-up meeting to the San Jose Charter, later this year.


Ms. NAUK said that Arab culture viewed older people as a valuable resource for their families and communities, a source of cultural continuity and a repository of wisdom and knowledge.  Ageing in the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) region was still in its early stages, although older persons were increasing both in number and as a percentage of the total population.  They were projected to represent between 22 per cent and 36 per cent of the total population in 12 of the 17 ESCWA member countries by 2050.  Ageing in the region was happening at a faster pace and at lower levels of socio-economic development than that of Western Europe, she said, noting that that added to the urgency of the situation.


She went on to state that, although the situations and circumstances of older persons differed from country to country, they faced similar challenges, such as unequal access to services, in both urban and rural areas; gender inequalities increasing the vulnerability of older women, especially widows; low levels of education and high illiteracy rates; a high incidence of poverty; and inadequate pension and health insurance coverage, leading to involuntarily extended participation in the labour force, mostly in agriculture and the informal sector.


Noting that countries in the region had made progress by establishing national committees and specialized departments, she said they had also extended health insurance and social security coverage, while reducing taxes for older persons.  However, there were many obstacles to implementation, such as the scarcity of resources and competing priorities, resulting in limited financing; insufficient research on the needs of older persons to mainstream the issues of older persons into development plans; and the absence of standards to ensure the quality of services for older people.


A number of representatives participated in the ensuing discussion, making comments or posing questions.


The representative of Chile said the San Jose Charter was, and would remain the Latin American and Caribbean region’s road map on ageing.  “Now is the time to forge ahead with new policies” relating to the linkages between development and ageing, she said, adding that a legally binding instrument setting forth the specific rights of the ageing would increase their profile and ensure their protection around the world.


Among the challenges to be addressed was that of strengthening public institutions, she continued.  In addition, there was a need for professionals trained to deal with the needs of the elderly, and service providers must be able to respond to their needs, whether they lived with their families or not.  An advisory committee on the elderly had been set up in each country of the region, but dialogues must include civil society and other stakeholders, as well, she said.


The representative of Mexico echoed the need for strong State institutions in respect of ageing populations, saying that the Government of Mexico was taking first steps towards non-contributed pensions for all people above the age of 65 years, and offering a comprehensive policy on health care, nutrition and training.


The representative of Finland asked what, in the panellists’ experience, had been the best way to promote the participation of elderly people.


Mr. ROVERSSI responded by saying that the first step towards establishing new policies was to “not fear fear”.  Costa Rica’s policies had been bold throughout its history, he said, pointing out that his country had eliminated its armed forces and developed green programmes, among other measures.


Ms. MPARIWA said the most important thing was involving older people in policymaking.  “Nothing about them without them” was a critical motto, she added.


Mr. CAIWEI said organizations could help older people become more socially active, while helping the State to collect their viewpoints.


Ms. NAUK said elderly people highly respected in some religious contexts, but respect must be brought to the national level.  They must have a say in national decision-making, she said, citing a 2012 Palestinian draft law encouraging the participation of elderly people.


The representative of Gabon recalled a General Assembly resolution declaring 23 June the International Day of Widows, and asked Mr. Caiwei to discuss the topic of widows.


Mr. CAIWEI said the problem of uneducated widows dependent on their husbands was an acute problem in the Asia-Pacific region.  On the one hand, social protection must be strengthened, while on the other, the role of families should be strengthened.  In a nutshell, the problems facing widows should have the attention of Government and society as a whole, he said.


The representative of Japan asked what the international community could do to promote full implementation of existing policies and frameworks.  What kind of support was expected from the United Nations in countries where such policies were not yet in place?


The representative of the European Union delegation said there was a need for society to adjust more generally to changes in the age structure, particularly in such areas as housing, culture, transport and education.  He also asked about monitoring tools.


The representative of the United States said the political discourse in her country was enriched by the participation of non-governmental organizations.  The country’s new Elder Justice Coordinating Council had held its first meeting in October, and last June, the White House had hosted the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  Moreover, the national health plan known as “Obamacare” was focused, among other things, on the care of older persons.  She pointed out that not all member States of the Organization of American States had adopted the San Jose Charter, which was a “somewhat controversial undertaking”.  She concluded by saying that the limited resources available would be best used to implement the Madrid Plan rather than developing new frameworks.


Mr. ROVERSSI said he was surprised at the United States representative’s statement describing the San Jose Charter as controversial.  As for other questions, he said the United Nations could play a role in disseminating existing documents, experiences and instruments in the field of ageing.


The representative of Germany said elderly people were not a homogenous group, and asked whether there were any best practices to deal with that issue, or policies for different ages.


The representative of the non-governmental organization HelpAge International said the post-2015 development framework posed a major challenge.  Even though ageing was the most significant demographic phenomenon around the world, “ageing is not in a visible space”.  How could the United Nations and Member States ensure that ageing was not left out or passed over?


The representative of the non-governmental organization International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse said there remained a lack of attention and response to discrimination against, and systematic violation of, the rights of older persons.  The current soft laws lacked the power of a legally binding instrument, for example, and there was no system of redress for older people whose rights were violated.  How could Member States be convinced to work towards a binding resolution?


The representative of Israel sought the views of the panellists on the different experiences faced by older women.


Meanwhile, the representative of Kenya said that, while old age sometimes caused disabilities, “persons with disabilities also get old”.  She expressed concern that disability was not mainstreamed into the discussion on ageing.


Mr. HUNDSTORFER responded by saying there were special training programmes aimed at keeping people in their 50s in the labour market.  In Austria, a good ongoing discussion was being conducted with associations for older people.


Ms. NAUK said that, while there were no explicit policies for dealing with older persons of different ages, some countries in the ESCWA region had instituted specific retirement ages and other implicit policies.  Concerning the post-2015 development agenda, she agreed that there must be more explicit inclusion of the rights of older people in that framework.  Various existing and legally binding instruments prevented abuse of elderly persons, and it remained a question of promotion and lobbying in order to raise their profile.


Mr. ROVERSSI responded to Germany’s representative by saying that there were not very many good practices established in the field of ageing.  On other questions, he agreed that, at some point, there would have to be a legally binding instrument to convince States to live up to their obligations with regards to ageing populations.


Ms. MPARIWA also addressed the question of age distinctions, saying there must be proper planning for the labour market so as to absorb those falling into the gap between 55 and 65 years of age.


The representative of a Colombian non-governmental organization stressed the importance of bringing the wisdom of the elderly to bear in eradicating poverty.


The representative of El Salvador said that while the human mind tended to compartmentalize people into different groups, the United Nations system and international instruments should go beyond such artificial barriers “which keep us from seeing the entirety of what a human being is”.


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For information media • not an official record