8 February 2013
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4802

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

Commission for Social Development

Fifty-first Session

7th Meeting (AM)


Economic Growth Alone Insufficient to Ensure Equality, Sustained Prosperity,


Panel Discussion Moderator Tells Commission for Social Development

 


Millennium Development Goals Were ‘Too Cautious’ in Ambition, Panellists Say


Faced with expanding inequality and widening gaps between rich and poor, world leaders poised to devise a new development agenda for the post-2015 era should embark upon a “new discussion” about the often-neglected social dimension of sustainable development, speakers urged today as the Commission for Social Development continued its fifty-first session.


“The post-2015 agenda presents a unique opportunity to strengthen the social dimension,” said Carlos Enrique García González ( El Salvador), CommissionVice-Chairperson, as he moderated a panel discussion on “The social dimension in the global development agenda beyond 2015”.  There was growing recognition that economic growth alone was not sufficient to ensure social justice, equality and sustained prosperity for all, he added.


At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20), he recalled, Governments had expressed commitment to strengthening the social pillar, and reaffirmed the need to integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions.  “Now this commitment must be translated into action.”  Today’s discussion was particularly timely as the Open Working Group created to elaborate a set of sustainable development goals — as mandated in Rio — would hold its first meeting this week, he noted.


Sarah Cook, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), agreed that the social pillar should be restored as the post-2015 development agenda was elaborated, but said it was possible to go further and truly integrate the social dimension into the framing of issues and policy.  That would involve moving beyond “pillars”, beyond defining the social aspect as being primarily about problems or particular marginal groups, and beyond the individual, instead refocusing attention on social institutions and relations such as class, gender, race and ethnicity.


Other speakers, including Timo Voipio, Senior Adviser on Social Policy and Decent Work to Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed the critical importance of a human rights-based approach to social development, including the establishment of social protection floors.  The Millennium Development Goals had failed in promoting a rights-based approach, he said, echoing Ms. Cook’s remark that they had been too “cautious” in their ambitions.  Indeed, in the post-2015 era, there was a need to stop monitoring averages and focus on changes in the lives of the bottom quintile of the population, he stressed.


Mawutor Ablo,Director of Social Protection in Ghana’s Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, said that, while social protection programmes were making sustainable impacts on poverty reduction among the extremely poor, vulnerable and excluded, that was a “blurred picture” of the situation, as progress remained uneven.  Leaders should now focus on building consensus around a clear policy agenda to address inequalities in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  A high-level policy dialogue was needed at the highest level of Government to develop strategies aimed at addressing inequality while advocating for social protection.


Stephen Pursey, Director of Policy Integration and Adviser to the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), urged the Commission to consider what the structure of a post-2015 priorities list should be, urging “creative thought” in that regard.  ILO was convinced that the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods should be at the heart of the post-2015 priorities list.  Further, the agency advocated the use of a “jobs lens” to policy creation, he said, adding that it would lead policymakers to think about education, training, health, and other critical social elements.


The final panellist, Nikhil Seth, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said a greater sense that “the way we’ve been doing it is probably not right” had emerged from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) last June, and a fundamental rethink of development was needed.  Indeed, world leaders in Rio had said that gross domestic product (GDP) was not an adequate tool for measuring progress, calling for quality of life and welfare also to feature as indicators in future work.


The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 11 February, to continue its work.


Background


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to hold a panel discussion on “The social dimension in the global development agenda beyond 2015”.  (See Press Releases SOC/4799/Rev.1 of 4 February and SOC/4800 of 6 February.)


Panel Discussion


The panel discussion on “The social dimension in the global development agenda beyond 2015” was moderated by Carlos Enrique García González,Deputy Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nationsand Vice-Chairperson of the Commission for Social Development.  It featured presentations by the following panellists:  Sarah Cook, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD);Timo Voipio, Senior Adviser on Social Policy and Decent Work, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland; Mawutor Ablo,Director of Social Protection, Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, Ghana; Stephen Pursey, Director of Policy Integration and Adviser to the Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO); and Nikhil Seth, Director, Division for Sustainable Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


Mr. GARCÍA opened the discussion by noting that the social dimension of sustainable development was mostly concerned, among other things, with social justice and well-being, better access to decent work, freeing people from poverty and promoting social inclusion.  “A strong social dimension is crucial to the global development agenda and for development to be sustainable,” he said, cautioning that poverty and exclusion would persist if economies continued to grow while the number of jobs did not.  If the poor had neither the voice nor the ability to hold decision makers accountable, inequalities would grow, particularly without access to adequate education, training, jobs and social protection.  “The post-2015 agenda presents a unique opportunity to strengthen the social dimension,” the Moderator said.  “The social challenges we face are profound.”


He went on to point out that the number of unemployed people had reached record-high levels amid growing inequalities.  Moreover, there was increasing recognition that economic growth alone was not sufficient to ensure social justice, equality and sustained prosperity for all.  He recalled that, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20), Governments had expressed their commitment to strengthening the social pillar of sustainable development and reaffirmed the need to integrate its social, economic and environmental dimensions.  “Now this commitment must be translated into action,” he stressed, describing today’s discussion as particularly timely since the Open Working Group created to elaborate a set of sustainable development goals — as mandated in Rio — was due to hold its first meeting this week.


Ms. COOK, taking the floor next, said that the Bruntland Report, which had popularized the term “sustainable development”, also laid out the three pillars — social equality, economic growth and environmental protection.  “The social pillar has, however, been largely neglected or ignored in this triad,” she said, adding that, at the minimum, it should be restored.  More could be done towards the integration of the social dimension in framing issues and policy.  It could involve moving beyond “pillars”; beyond the definition of the social aspect as being primarily about problems or particular marginal groups; and beyond the individual while instead refocusing attention on social institutions and relations, such as class, gender, race and ethnicity.  The challenge, then, was how to overcome separation and move towards integration, she said.


Briefly describing the history of UNRISD — established in 1963 precisely to address that problem — she said that decade had been a period of vibrant political and social movements.  It had seen independence for colonies, the civil rights and feminist movements, as well as huge technological leaps.  By the time of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the world economy and the development discourse had been transformed.  At the same time, a neoliberal economic agenda and a period of intensified globalization had essentially relegated social issues to the margins of development, she said, adding that the State had come to be seen as “part of the problem, not the solution”.


Consequently, she said, the Millennium Development Goals represented a “cautious approach” to social development that often reinforced the separation and marginalization of social issues from the mainstream of development and economic growth.  In more recent years, particularly those leading up to Rio+20, several key issues had been identified in examining the “green economy” through a social lens, she continued.  In terms of policy, there was currently greater emphasis on mechanisms to address social consequences, in particular through social protection and assistance.  Social protection programmes were expanding, and the State was increasingly seen as an important part of any solution.  Indeed, “we’re really at a point where we can have a new discussion” about the social dimension, she said.


Mr. VOIPIO said the Social Protection Floor Initiative was the most effective way to base the post-2015 development agenda more firmly on human rights, recalling that United Nations agencies had proposed basing it on the principles of human rights, equality and sustainability, which in turn, should be promoted in four main areas — inclusive social development, inclusive economic development, environmental sustainability, and peace and security.  The Initiative was a human rights-based campaign to which every agency could contribute in its own area of expertise, with a view to attaining the shared goal of guaranteeing basic services and basic income security.


He went on to say that the Millennium Development Goals had failed in promoting a human rights-based approach since they ignored persons with disabilities, the world’s largest minority.  Their situation should be used as the litmus test of policy inclusiveness.  “If they are sensitive enough to include persons with disabilities, we can trust them to be inclusive of all people,” he stressed.  In the post-2015 era, there was a need to stop monitoring averages and focus on changes in the lives of the bottom quintile of the population.  Social protection was an effective way to reduce inequalities and promote everyone’s human right to meaningful participation in society and in the economy, he said.


There were good human-rights and economic arguments to support social protection, he continued, describing decent work as the best form of social protection.  Noting that the Millennium Development Goals monitored progress on poverty averages, he urged a shift away from poverty and towards the multiple dimensions of inequality — gender, age, disability and income.  The post-2015 targets and monitoring indicators should enhance understanding of whether the lives of those in the bottom quintile were improving.  In most cases, the rights of the disadvantaged were best promoted through universal tax-funded social policy systems that provided sufficient benefits for all residents to keep the politically and economically powerful middle classes, for example, interested in funding such programmes.


Mr. ABLO said that social protection was making a sustainable impact on poverty reduction among the extremely poor, vulnerable and excluded.  Although the picture being painted was positive overall, there were varying degrees of success in different areas, as well as inequalities that must be addressed.  According to the recent Ghana Living Standards Survey, the country was making significant strides towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals, and extreme poverty had been greatly reduced.  However, that “aggregate” image blurred the real picture, he cautioned.  There were significant regional disparities in poverty.  Economic activities in poorer regions might not be appropriate to stimulate growth, while poorer regions had limited opportunities and less access to primary and secondary education.


As a result, Ghana had developed and implemented rights-based social protection intervention programmes, and was working to mainstream social development into other areas, he continued.  Describing such efforts as “common targeting mechanisms”, he said they included the Single Registry Database and the Vulnerability and Exclusion Working Group.  They involved high-level political support, in particular through the new Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection.  Other impacts included support for the rationalization of pro-poor spending and improved equity in health and education.  Calling for a focus on building consensus on a clear policy agenda to address inequality in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, he said a high-level policy dialogue was required to develop strategies for addressing international, regional, subregional and national inequalities.  Advocacy for social protection was also needed at the highest level of Government in order to create political support and the necessary fiscal space, he emphasized.


The Moderator then opened the discussion for questions and comments.


The representative of Ireland underlined the importance of integrating climate change into social protections.  It was imperative to develop social development programmes that would address the multiple vulnerabilities of the poor, she said, asking how a more rigorous, evidence-based knowledge base could be generated for the design of disaster risk reduction programmes in the face of climate challenges.  How could the vulnerable be assured of an active part in the solution?


Ms. COOK replied that social protection programmes could take different forms.  It was vital to ensure that they went beyond protection functions and linked to other areas that more broadly defined social protection, including productivity.  There was a strong need to incorporate new risks, such as climate, into social policies, she added.


Mr. VOIPIO said there would be more situations in which poor households would need to shift away from their livelihoods, change the crops they produced or their residences because their lives had become unbearable.  But it was also very difficult for such households to change.  With reliable social protections, however, their ability to take risk would be enhanced.  As for ensuring a participatory process, he urged involving ministries responsible for the vulnerable in discussions on such issues as disaster risk reduction.


Mr. ABLO, for his part, said it was crucial to empower the most vulnerable.  The evidence needed to inform policy design came from the work undertaken on the ground, and it was important to identify where such programmes had succeeded.


A representative of non-governmental organizations asked how civil society could ensure that the Commission used such tools as the Guiding Principles to shape the post-2015 development agenda.


Mr. VOIPIO responded by encouraging everyone to look into the Guiding Principles, which were “extremely practical to everything we do in development cooperation”.


The representative of Liberia asked how oil revenues had impacted implementation of social protection programmes in Ghana.


Mr. ABLO replied that investment in Ghana’s social protection programmes came from the Government’s general budget.  Oil revenues flowed into Government coffers, but discussions on how to use them in generating special support for social protection implementation were ongoing, he said, adding that the World Bank and other international institutions were helping in that regard.


The representative of Togo, noting that the United Nations had a system-wide social protection system, said that certain groups had been excluded, and advocated for the inclusion of the disabled and the elderly in agency agendas after 2015.


Mr. VOIPIO echoed the need to “work as One UN”, saying it was encouraging that the United Nations — as well as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), regional banks and major civil society organizations — attended the interagency coordination board.  Normative forums must keep up the pressure for agencies to work together.  As for excluded groups, he said that six United Nations agencies had started a partnership fund on the rights of persons with disabilities in 2012.  “It has had a very good start,” he said, urging States to join it.  In addition, he said that if old age and the “youth bulge” were not population questions, he did not know what was.  They should be part of the mission of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


A representative of the European Union delegation asked whether actions targeting particular vulnerable groups should be included in the global development agenda.  In ensuring access for all, how should the promotion and protection of human rights be emphasized in the post-2015 development framework? she asked.  And how should employment be best reflected in the creation of future goals?


Ms. COOK responded by stressing the need for flexibility in defining national targets in local areas, which could address the different forms of inequalities.  Different constituencies were placing their concerns on the table, and it was essential to frame them in a way that targeted the drivers of inequality.


Mr. VOIPIO said inequality should be the crucial element in defining any goal.  “We want to understand what is happening to the differences among people,” especially the bottom quintile.  Economic dynamism in very few countries depended on what was decided at the United Nations.  The focus must be on the quality of that dynamism and whether it was distributed in a way that allowed societies to advance with a high level of social cohesion.


Mr. ABLO added that, although a good picture often emerged at the aggregate level when programmes were devised and evaluations carried out, local inequalities persisted.  Interventions must address their root causes.


The representative of Cuba, stressing that progress should be measured in terms of reduced inequality, asked about human development indicators that could be adjusted to existing inequalities.


Mr. VOIPIO replied that data generated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) human development reports impacted national and local situations.  At the end of the day, it was crucial that nationals of every country had the right to information on how national development wealth was shared.  A hybrid solution combining common and localized indicators could emerge.


Ms. COOK said global inequalities were driven by factors that transcended the ability of States to control them.  Accountability mechanisms could be developed, he said, adding that there was also a need to consider goals that placed accountability at the global level, while allowing for space at the national level to define differentiation according to local conditions.


Mr. ABLO underscored the importance of a global goal indicator for addressing inequalities, as well as subregional and regional ones.  The critical issue was to develop an impression of how global agreements were implemented, which called attention to questions of national capacity.  He urged examining how global partnerships helped to build national capacities when devising international interventions that targeted disadvantaged groups.


Mr. PURSEY said that the word “emerging” highlighted not that the social issues on the table were new, but that they had been insufficiently addressed.  A global unemployment problem was at the top of every political agenda, and the world would need to reverse course in order to get on a new sustainable development path.  Spotlighting several key issues emerging from today’s discussion, he said they included priorities, policy coherence and the search for sustainable political impetus for moving forward.  He asked the Commission to consider what the structure of a post-2015 priorities list should be, urging creative thought and citing a recent report, “Organizing the Future we Want”, as an example.  He also proposed a global common framework for action since it was not possible to proceed on a country-by-country basis.  “This is a major challenge,” he said, adding that success would be assured when the sum of national actions added up to success on the global scale.


He went on to say that ILO was convinced that the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods should be at the heart of the post-2015 priorities list.  Social development was an important part of the decent work agenda, and investing in social protection was also critical.  The United Nations should think about making a statement such as “we the peoples want better jobs”, he said.  International financial institutions had also recognized their responsibility to play a role in the job-creation agenda.  On policy coherence, ILO advocated the use of a “jobs lens” that would make policymakers think about education, training, health and other critical social elements.  In that regard, he cited the example of an employer in Kenya who had provided clean water to keep his workers healthy.  As for the environment, he warned that production consumed resources.  The goal was to balance the resources being used now with what was needed for the future.


Mr. SETH, rounding out the panel, said that what had emerged from the Rio+20 Conference was a greater sense that “the way we’ve been doing it is probably not right”.  A fundamental rethink of development was needed, with an equal concern for people and planet at its heart.  The lessons learned in Rio underlined the importance of integrated decision-making, he said, pressing delegates to examine how the Commission could best take on that task.  The discussion must shift from one of policy analysis to change on the ground.  Coherence among policies and institutions was urgently needed, he emphasized.  “Without that we’ll be back to square one.”


Turning to social issues, he said the Rio outcome document emphasized the importance of full employment and decent work, as well as social protections.  Recalling that world leaders had said gross domestic product (GDP) was not an adequate tool for measuring progress, he said they had mandated the Statistical Commission to better inform policy decisions, adding that quality of life and welfare would feature in such efforts.  The idea of a “green economy” had brought the issue of participation and engagement to the fore, with delegates urging a definition of inclusiveness in the context of the development ladder so as to assuage concerns about that concept.  Urging the design of a transformative framework for a future beyond 2015, he said the Millennium Development Goals had not elaborated a strategy for decent employment, adding:  “Let’s get it right this time.”


In a final round of questions and comments, the representative of Mexico said the Commission could make relevant contributions to the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development, as it had the inputs from non-governmental organizations.  She agreed that national averages without the breakdowns provided only an incomplete picture of national realities, and supported a proposal that the next session of the Economic and Social Council include a summary of today’s panel discussion.


The representative of Italy said that the European 2020 strategy placed the social dimension at the heart of inclusive growth, while outlining a poverty reduction target, but few results had been achieved.  It was, therefore, important to focus on implementation, he said, highlighting the role of indicators, in defining poverty and inequality at the global level.


Mr. VOIPIO called for integrating messages from the Economic and Social Council’s subsidiary bodies into United Nations operational agencies.


Mr. SETH said it was time to move from abstract discussions to practical issues.  On the question of cash transfers, for example, he focused on how they could be better designed to include more permanent sustainable development infrastructure.  Could longer-term infrastructure issues, such as water, be built into programmes such as the Bolsa Familia? he asked.


Mr. ABLO stressed the importance of global, regional and national partnerships in all such work.


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For information media • not an official record