Statement to the Third Committee of the General Assembly by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs
New York, 3 October 2005

Mr. Chairman,

The recent World Summit acknowledged that we live in a world of changes so profound and rapid that no country can stand wholly alone and that all, large and small, are tested. More importantly, it recognized the interrelatedness of the world’s social, economic, environmental, and political threats and challenges and the need to address their root causes with resolve and determination.

This very interconnectedness explains the enduring, indeed intensified importance of the series of major UN conferences and summits over the past decade and a half. Through it, Governments and an array of development partners have constructed a UN Development Agenda: a comprehensive set of internationally agreed development goals on the economic, social, and environmental aspects of development, from the local to the global level. The Millennium Development Goals are a prominent expression of this Agenda.

At the World Summit, world leaders clearly and cogently asserted the valuable role of the major UN conferences and summits. The Summit decisions hold much promise for advancing progress on the UN development agenda—and for the wider UN effort to build better societies and a better world, through cooperative action in development, human rights, and peace and security. Your decisions, in this Committee session, will factor greatly in our collective ability to make the most of them.

For this Committee bears a crucial responsibility in addressing central elements of these challenges. It rests on a cluster of issues on social development, gender equality and human rights that are not separate, but facets of a complete and complex agenda. An integrated response increases the chances of the poorest and most vulnerable people to place their lot with that of others who have greater opportunities for a better life.

This is, Mr. Chairman, the backdrop for this session of the Third Committee. Let me express our hope that it will gain great ground in meeting its complex responsibilities, congratulate you and the Bureau for your election, and assure you of our fullest cooperation and assistance to your work.

Mr. Chairman,

I wish to underscore a priority concern that should pervade all aspects of our shared work—the global rise in inequality. Concern with inequality is at the core of many of the specific issues addressed by this Committee. More than that, looking through the lens of inequality offers a vivid reminder of the urgency of concrete action across the entire development agenda—which has done much to galvanize action particularly against poverty.

That the world has experienced a global decline in absolute poverty is a significant achievement, albeit one that has largely bypassed several developing regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa. We have also witnessed advances in other areas. Access to education for girls is showing improvements. And we are seeing a strong correlation between social spending on health and higher levels of life expectancy. Yet these advances are being eclipsed by increasing inequality between and within countries. This is the central message of our recent Report on the World Social Situation, The Inequality Predicament.

In 2003, half of the world’s workers were unable to lift themselves and their families above the poverty threshold of $2 per day. Nearly one in four workers in the developing world was living on less than $1 per day. In the face of weak employment generation, informal employment is growing. And the widening gaps between skilled and unskilled workers and between the formal and informal economies have contributed to persistent and deepening inequality worldwide.

The world income gap is even more revealing: the richest 20 percent of the people on the planet account for 86 percent of all private consumption, whereas the poorest 20 percent account for just above 1 percent. What this means was recently captured by The New York Times in a penetrating way: poor people “often end up flat on their backs as the price of staying alive soars out of reach. The fact that many manage to get by is largely because those who have little, share with those who have even less.”

Extend the canvas beyond the individual to impoverished families and communities, and we see the even more haunting reality of poverty and inequality being transmitted from one generation to the next. The result is broad patterns of exclusion of large segments of our human family from opportunities for a better life.

This global rise in inequality has accompanied the economic reforms enacted over the past two decades, and it is thus hard to think that it is not, at least partly, associated with them. Countries have implemented structural adjustment programmes to improve economic growth, expecting that, once macroeconomic imbalances were addressed and once markets operated more freely, the hoped-for higher growth would also generate social benefits. But in many countries and regions, reforms have not yielded the expected benefits. For with them has come rising unemployment, growing income gaps, and inadequate social protection.

The consequences go still further. These large and, in some cases, increased inequalities are having a negative impact on economic growth and are one of the factors contributing to higher rates of violent crime. In areas with high youth unemployment, bleak job prospects drive many young people to experience a pervasive sense of injustice. More broadly, people who cannot secure adequate employment are unable to generate income sufficient to protect their households from economic downturns or to cover basic needs for themselves and their families. And let us not forget that gender dimensions are deeply embedded in inequalities and often reflected in the denial of human rights and the practice of discrimination.

The overall picture points up the need for a broad approach: targeting hunger and inadequate income, while simultaneously waging a much wider assault on inequalities in access to health, education, and personal safety, and in opportunities for employment and political participation.

The 1995 World Summit for Social Development helped put such an approach at the center of the then-emerging UN development agenda. The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action sought, above all, to make development more people-centered, and to bring eradicating poverty, promoting employment, and fostering social integration together as central, interconnected objectives of economic and social policies.

Commemorating Copenhagen’s 10th anniversary earlier this year, the Commission for Social Development stressed the need to re-align present efforts with this fundamental approach. In this respect, the 2005 World Summit took a number of steps in the right direction. Among them was a firm commitment to make full and productive employment and decent work for all a central objective of national and international policies and development strategies.

In a similar vein, the ten-review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action stressed, among other areas of concern, the lack of women’s access to secure employment, decent work and living standards, and appropriate, affordable, and quality health care. Here again, the Summit took positive steps. It reaffirmed that gender equality is essential to advance development. And it produced commitments actively to promote the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic, and social spheres.

Mr. Chairman,

Providing opportunities for all social groups to contribute to society remains one of the cornerstones of social integration and socially-inclusive development. This is critical for women as well as for older persons and youth, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities, who continue to suffer from discrimination and lower standards of living.

The implications of population ageing for inclusive societies are both wide-ranging and well recognized. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing provides the framework for national and international efforts in this regard. The emphasis is now on supporting capacity-building and the mainstreaming of ageing into policy formulations.

At the same time, this Assembly session will mark the 10th anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth. The Programme represents the first global blueprint for effective national action for and with young people. For it, the MDGs have proved to be a critical asset, helping to focus attention on youth unemployment and wider issues of health and education and the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

In our fight against poverty and hunger and for social inclusion, the sustainable development of indigenous peoples and their communities is also critical. The Summit recognized this. It also committed world leaders to continued efforts to advance the human rights of indigenous peoples at all levels, including through consultation and collaboration with them. And it produced agreement to present for adoption a final draft UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples as soon as possible.

In another important decision, the Summit yielded agreement to finalize a comprehensive draft convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. While much work remains, significant progress has been made over the past two years, through the steady efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations, human rights institutions, and disability advocates.

Distinguished delegates,

The power of the UN development agenda lies in its comprehensiveness and integrated approach. But that power has yet to be fully unleashed, given a continuing—though ultimately futile—effort in practice, deliberate or not, to separate the social and economic spheres.

Supporting development means supporting the whole development agenda. The principles of equality should be at the forefront of social and economic policy-making to ensure that economic growth fosters a people-centered development.

So the time has come to accept, promote and demand that priority be given to more effective social investment efforts in all national development strategies. And this should be accompanied by more decisive action towards the eighth goal of the Millennium Declaration—building a global partnership for development, especially in the key areas of aid, debt relief, and trade.

We also need to build stronger institutions to support the development of integrated policy frameworks. These institutions should serve to encourage social actors to speak for the disenfranchised; make the social effects of economic policy highly visible; and, as I underscored in my first intervention in this Committee two years ago, effectively mainstream social objectives into economic policy-making.

I hope these reflections will feed into your discussions at this critical session of the Third Committee. I wish you every success in your deliberations.