Commission for Social Development Discusses Social Protection as Delegates Consider How to Meet Needs of Vast Ageing Population

14 February 2011
SOC/4774

Commission for Social Development Discusses Social Protection as Delegates Consider How to Meet Needs of Vast Ageing Population

14 February 2011
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4774
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Forty-ninth Session

8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Commission for Social Development Discusses Social Protection as Delegates

 

Consider How to Meet Needs of Vast Ageing Population

 

As Member States discussed ways to envelop the pressing needs of an ageing population that could reach 1.6 billion in the developing world by 2050, the Commission on Social Development today heard three experts lay out ways in which social protection measures could shield individuals and their families from the most severe economic shocks emanating from a financial crisis.

Not only seeking insights on how such measures could minimize the damage wrought by economic calamity, the Commission also tapped into the experts’ knowledge of measures that could help people improve their lives over the long term by unleashing the potential of workers and tackling the root causes of poverty.

The Commission concluded the fourth day of a forty-ninth session whose focus is poverty eradication and in which Member States hope to exchange best practices and shape new approaches that would filter down to the 900 million people whose lives would still be mired in extreme poverty in 2015, even if the first Millennium Development Goal was realized in that target year.

Michael Cichon, Director of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Department of Social Security and the first speaker in a panel discussing social protection, said social protection floors guaranteed that everyone could tap into essential health-care services and enjoy basic income security.  People could not be productive members of society if they were unhealthy or malnourished, he said, adding that by investing in schools, job training and health care, Governments helped people become employable.  That meant they could afford to pay taxes and to pay for higher levels of social protection, he noted, pointing out, however, that 80 per cent of the global population lacked access to adequate social protection.

Sarah Cook, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), discussed the different expectations surrounding social protection interventions and the different ways in which countries met them.  Social protection programmes dealt with many risks, from economic crisis to an individual’s poor health, she said.  Countries that had successfully reduced income poverty and improved social conditions had laid out comprehensive social protection programmes that were integrated into broad social and economic development strategies.  Those that had emphasized narrowly targeted interventions had tended to be less effective in reducing poverty, she said.

Michael Morass, Deputy Head of the European Commission’s External Relations Unit, said the financial crisis had shown the world more than ever the crucial need for social protection programmes.  The global debate must “zero in” not only on laying a social protection floor, but also on expanding the level of social benefits and modernizing social protection mechanisms, he said.  Even with a prompt response to the economic crisis, the European Union had still experienced 9.6 per cent unemployment while youth unemployment had soared as high as 40 per cent in some States, he noted, pointing out that 80 million Europeans still lived below the poverty line.

During a general discussion titled “Review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”, the Commission focused on the particular needs of the elderly.  Highlighting their growing number, Mexico’s delegate said the number of those over the age of 60 in the developing world would triple from 473 million in 2009 to more than 1.6 billion by 2050.  That demographic shift was a development challenge that must be included in Government social strategies, he stressed.

The Republic of Korea’s representative said his country was well aware of the world’s aging population.  It had developed the Basic Five-year Plan for Ageing Society and Population Policy, running from 2006 to 2010, and kept improving the National Pension Scheme.  It had also introduced the Basic Old-age Pension in 2008, which paid out basic pensions to 70 per cent of those over 65 years of age.  It was now carrying out the second Basic Five-year Plan for Aging Society and Population Policy, from 2011 and 2015, which outlined employment-promotion policies for “baby boomers” and the creation of about 300,000 jobs for the elderly until 2015.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Hungary’s delegate said the regional bloc’s efforts to promote active ageing would culminate in the European Year for Active Ageing, in 2012.  In 2010, the European Union had kicked off a major debate on pension sustainability and the safety of private pension schemes, he said, stressing that the dignity, health and social situation of older persons must be respected and their needs socially included.  The increasing life expectancy of the “baby boom” generation challenged the economic sustainability of the European welfare State, he cautioned.

Others taking part in the panel discussion were representatives of China, Morocco, Algeria, United Kingdom, Botswana, Netherlands, Namibia and Nigeria.

Representatives of the World Youth Alliance, African Union and the International Federation on Ageing also delivered took part.

Participating in the earlier general discussion were representatives of Ghana, Cameroon, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Argentina, China, Japan, Ecuador, Switzerland, Venezuela, Italy, Thailand, United States, Dominican Republic, Denmark, Jamaica, Iran and Chile.

Speakers representing the International Labour Organization, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, International Presentation Association, Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America and the Baha’i International Community also spoke.

The Commission will resume its session at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 February.

Background

The Commission for Social Development met today to review relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, including the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons; World Programme of Action for Youth; Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002; and family issues, policies and programmes.  It would also consider follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly.  A panel discussion would be held in the afternoon on “Social Protection”.  For background, see Press Release SOC/4770 of 7 February.

Statements

IMRE NYITRAI, Deputy State Secretary, Ministry of National Resources, Hungary, speaking on behalf of the European Union, recalled the entry into force in 2008 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.  The Union was working to ensure its implementation and ratification by all its members.  The 2010-2020 European Disability Strategy, which aimed to empower men and women with disabilities to enjoy their full rights and fully participate in society, focused on accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action.  Youth unemployment was rising in the European Union, to 5 million at present.  It stood at more than 30 per cent in some European States.  However, short-term contracts offered to youth limited their career opportunities and advancement.  The Union could not afford to ignore that problem, particularly as it faced an ageing population and a shrinking workforce.  In September, it launched the “Youth on the Move” strategy and a 2010-2018 cooperation framework for improving youth education and employment.

He said that the European Union’s efforts to promote active ageing would culminate in the European Year for Active Ageing, in 2012.  In 2010, the Union had begun a major debate on pension sustainability as well as the safety of private pension schemes.  The dignity, as well as health and social situation, of older persons must be respected, and they must be socially included.  The increasing life expectancy and ageing of the “baby boom” generation challenged the economic sustainability of the European welfare State.  Increasing women’s participation in the labour market was crucial.  To help women better balance work and family life, the Union was developing several initiatives on family to address demographic change and promote good practices, such as the European Alliance for Families and the European Demographic Forum.

ENOCH TEYE MENSAH (Ghana) said that to provide employable skills in various trade areas for disadvantaged youth, Ghana had established a number of training institutions.  Those included the National Vocational Training Institute and the Opportunities Industrialization Centre Ghana, which provided community-based skills training for Junior and Senior High School graduates who did not qualify for tertiary education.  The Integrated Community Centres for Employable Skills provided skills training for early school “exiters” and uneducated youth, including single mothers.  Youth Leadership training institutions promoted youth empowerment through counselling, education and community services.  The Ghana Persons Disability Act, enacted in 2006, provided the framework for the creation of an enabling environment for the total integration of persons with disabilities to harness their potential.  A strategic plan covering the period 2010-2014 had been developed to facilitate the Act’s implementation.

M. AUGUSTIN TANG ESSOMBA, Minster of Social Affairs, Cameroon, said social protection was a key component of Cameroon’s poverty reduction strategies and an important way to reduce the harmful impacts of climate change and the recent financial crisis.  Government programmes and funding aimed to achieve sustainable development, with a particular focus on protecting the elderly, impoverished families, mothers, children and people with disabilities.  The State had set up an institutional legal framework to give specific aid to vulnerable populations.  In October 2009, Cameroon had signed the Disabilities Convention, and in April 2010, it had enacted a law to enforce the Convention.  It also had laws on the books to ensure that those persons had access to the labour market, public buildings and public spaces.  The State had created information and communications technology training programmes for the blind and visually impaired and it had set up an institute for the blind.  She pointed to various Government efforts to help street children, including a programme that was currently providing educational, nutritional, psychosocial and other support to 120,000 such children.  She called for full implementation of the decent work agenda and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Jobs Pact.

IBRAGIM DJUNUSOV (Kyrgyzstan) said that social sector services received 40 per cent of the State’s budget expenditures and supported citizens through social guarantees, rights and poverty mitigation of the vulnerable population.  Work was under way to enhance support by providing social assistance via a mechanism of compensation for preferential categories of citizens and recipients of State benefits.  Social payments were made in the form of State benefits and monetary compensations, and more than 1 million people were covered by social support.  Pensioners composed about 10 per cent of the Republic’s population.  The priority of social policy was to address poverty problems by providing the poor with access to education and public health services, a system of social protection and social insurance and by providing proper life conditions for the population.

IGOR SHAPOVALOV (Russian Federation) said national development strategies focused on gender equality, youth support and strengthening the role of the family.  National health care and education programmes had produced positive results, including lower rates of maternal and child mortality, and improved standards of living for the elderly and the disabled.  He supported the Commission’s efforts to monitor implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth.  National programmes focused on strengthening financial support for young families and for parents that provided child care, including of children with disabilities.  Caring for youth was a long-term investment.  Another challenge of the new decade was to address the issue of the ageing population.  To implement the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, the Russian Federation had adopted measures to promote the health of the elderly and their ability to remain in the labour force for as long as possible.  Great efforts were being made to modernize social services and care facilities for the elderly.  In 2008, the Russian Federation had signed the Disabilities Convention, and was now finalizing preparations for its ratification.  The country aimed to give persons with disabilities equal opportunities, jobs and barrier-free access to all public buildings.  In that vein, in 2008, the Government had set up the President’s Council for Persons with Disabilities.

LUCIA CARGNEL ( Argentina) said her country had been working diligently since 2007 with other countries in Latin America to help promote the rights of people with disabilities. Those efforts included meetings with other members of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) in March 2010 and development of a plan of activities for the decade, 2011 to 2019, aimed at assisting persons with disabilities.  To fortify international cooperation and provide humanitarian assistance, Argentina had worked with Brazil, for example, to bring technical assistance to community-based rehabilitation initiatives to people in Haiti.  Argentina and other Latin American countries were working to help persons with disabilities and promoting the integration of disabilities into social development as a human right.

YOU JIA (China) said efforts to tackle challenges had to be based squarely on development, which was the fundamental path to improving people’s livelihoods and achieving social harmony.  To let all people benefit from development, it was particularly important to pay attention to the issues of ageing while creating sound pension and health-care systems; incorporating the needs of persons with disabilities into the mainstream of development; and creating job opportunities, especially for young people.  The protection of vulnerable groups must be strengthened, and policy and financial support for low-income families and special groups should be increased, as basic social services, including education, health care, nutrition and housing were made universal.  He also urged greater attention to the developing countries.

TETSUYA KIMURA (Japan) said that in April 2010, the Act on the Promotion of Development and Support for Children and Young People had come into effect in Japan.  It focused on giving young people assistance in education, social participation and employment; helping them in difficult circumstances with welfare, medical care and rehabilitation; and improving the social environment of young people through community-support programmes.  To ensure the adequate education of all students, regardless of income level, the State had enacted several laws since then to provide them with financial aid.  Last year, the Government had set up the Committee to Promote Systemic Reforms for Persons with Disabilities.  It was important to put technology and knowledge to good use.  Towards that end, it had contributed to the 2010 second session of the Committee on Social Development of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) on promoting an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for persons with disabilities.  In 1995, the Government had enacted the Basic Law on Measures for the Ageing Society.  It had increased employment opportunities for the aged by encouraging employers to increase their respective companies’ retirement age and extend contracts beyond retirement.   

GEOVANNY RIVADENEIRA (Ecuador) said his country had respect for the rights of persons with disabilities and sought to protect those rights.  It was working to raise awareness throughout society of that social group, and it was providing social services to those people.  To create an “Ecuador without Barriers”, it was making sure that persons with disabilities were “rights holders”.  That meant identifying people all around the country with disabilities.  That was being done through a solidarity mission called “Manuela Espejo”, inspired by an Ecuadorean nurse.  A national survey, undertaken from July 2009 to November 2010, sought to obtain information about the number of Ecuadoreans with disabilities, including those working in the private sector.

JONAS HERTNER (Switzerland) said initiatives in the priority areas identified by the World Programme of Action for Youth were needed now more than ever, given the crises facing the world to which young people were especially vulnerable.  He underlined, however, that youth also had the possibility to recover from crises and prosper.  For that to happen, he invited the Commission to give particular attention to means of including young people in society, providing them a secure environment and making education and training available, affordable, accessible and acceptable in terms of quality, including basic human rights education.  For those purposes, he suggested that vision and responsibility be the cornerstones for the upcoming consultations, in order to find ways to open up opportunities for young people worldwide and to ensure that all goals were met.

VERÓNICA CALCINARI VAN DER VELDE (Venezuela) said the Government had opened broad spaces for social inclusion for people with disabilities.  Social programmes encouraged their full participation in society.   The Jose Gregorio Hernandez mission promoted social integration programmes for persons with disabilities.  In 2010, it had approved 796,765 cases of economic aid for 323,149 people.  Its “house-to-house” programmes carried out surveys of the entire population to take stock of the number of people in the country with disabilities, in order to ensure that their basic needs were met.  The mission also had a diagnostics centre, which provided free pre- and post-natal testing on genetic illnesses.  The “school for all” programmes aimed to incorporate people with special needs into the school system through integrated classrooms.  She pointed to the initial development centre for infants, the special education institute for children aged 4 to 14, as well as the vocational education workshop for adults between the ages of 14 and 35.  Venezuela also had a national technological literacy plan and it had set up training and education centres with Braille capacity. 

HYEJIN KIM, Director, Aging Society Policy Division, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea, said it was very important for Member States to share experiences and discuss the way forward on social development issues. Referring to ageing issues, she said the population in her country was ageing very rapidly and it had developed the Basic Five-year Plan for Aging Society and Population Policy from 2006 to 2010.  It had continuously improved the national pension scheme and introduced the Basic Old-age Pension in 2008, which paid out basic pensions to 70 per cent of the elderly more than 65 years of age.  The long-term care insurance system, also in place since 2008, provided care services for more than 280,000 people having difficulties moving around.  It was now carrying out its second Basic Five-year Plan for Aging Society and Population Policy from 2011 and 2015.  That Second Plan outlined employment promotion polices for baby boomers, including the Wage Peak System and the creation of about 300,000 jobs for the elderly until 2015.

FILIPPO CINTI ( Italy), aligning himself with the European Union, said as Italy ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, new guidelines to mainstream disabilities into Italian Development Cooperation policies, including measures to deal with natural disasters, had been put in place.  Concerning ageing, Italy had low employment rates for people aged 50 to 64 years, which was why the Government had made removing obstacles to the labour market a priority.  Pension system reform also had raised the average retirement age.  Ahead of the second assessment of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, Italy’s priorities were to ensure that the labour market adapted to changes brought on by an ageing population; mainstream a gender perspective into policies; and promote lifelong learning.  As for family welfare, he described the 2007 national plan for education and care services, which provided affordable, high-quality childcare.

SARANPAT ANUMATRAJKIJ, Director of the International Affairs Group, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, discussing national efforts, said the 2007 Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act was the most recent, comprehensive rights-based legislation, which outlined disabled persons’ rights to access and use public facilities, including welfare services.  Thailand had ratified the Disabilities Convention in 2008 and, since then, the Cabinet had agreed on an employment ratio of one disabled person for every 100 workers.  Regionally, Thailand had worked to mainstream a disability perspective into the work of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), notably by drafting the Social Welfare and Development Strategic Framework for 2011-2015.  His Government had also endorsed the candidacy of a blind Thai senator for election to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for the 2013-2016 term.

BRIAN KIDWELL (United States) said the country was working to find new means to meet the social problems of the nation and the world.  It was working in particular to maximize the financial stability of older adults.  It was providing additional health services to millions of citizens by providing access to health insurance through new legislation.  It was addressing the needs of children and families.  The United States Government was working with vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities and migrants.  It was also actively working to raise awareness of nutrition among the general public.  In 2009, the Government had put into place the Year of Community Living to address the needs of people with disabilities.  With those and other efforts, the Government was committed to meeting the needs of people through integrated social and economic programs.

NURYS PRESBOT DE MICHEL (Dominican Republic) said his country promoted the rights of older persons through the National Council on the Elderly.  It provided follow-up to the 2003 regional action plan for Latin America and the Caribbean on the elderly and the 2007 Brazil Declaration.  Despite its difficult economic situation, the Government had made significant strides to eradicate poverty and improve the living standards of the elderly.  It also strengthened action to comply with decree 352-98 on the rights of the elderly.  In 2010, an estimated 8.6 per cent of the population was over the age of 60.  One quarter of all elderly people in the country lived in poverty.  With the support of the National Council, the Government had designed programmes to aid heads of households that were over the age of 60.  More than 82,000 older persons received monthly aid in the form of medication, food, housing and wheelchairs.  The Government and the Council were giving monthly subsidies of 700 pesos each to 75,000 people over the age of 65, with a focus on alleviating extreme poverty among the elderly.  In 2009, only 14.3 per cent of people over the age of 60 had health insurance.  It was also alarming that only 10.6 per cent of people over age 65 had a pension.  In the next 20 years, the Government aimed to achieve a society of equal rights for all through a comprehensive package of social protection programmes.

ANNE-METTE KJAER (Denmark) said universal social protection, in cash transfers and social services, was a key part of the Danish welfare model.  The Danish Consolidation Act on Social Services stipulated that all physically or mentally impaired adults or those with special social problems received the necessary assistance based on their individual needs.  Long-term care services were provided for the elderly and people with disabilities, such as assistance with personal hygiene, cleaning, laundering or shopping.  Denmark, like many other countries, was facing the challenge of an ageing population.  To address that, it was focusing on full use of civil society’s participation in the social sector, support for the elderly to remain in the workforce longer, and investment in new long-term care solutions, including welfare technology.  A Danish survey with more than 4,000 respondents intended to identify drivers and barriers to integrate and retain older workers.  In 2008, the Government amended social pension laws to give pensioners incentives to continue working by introducing an earned income tax deduction to increase the basis on which supplementary pension benefits were calculated.  The number of hours a person must work in order to defer a pension was decreased from 1,600 to 1,000 hours.

ALDO ALDAMA-BRETON (Mexico) said vulnerable groups needed to have confidence that their institutions would provide them with social mobility and access to programmes that would improve their quality of life.  Social policies needed an important legal framework to provide consistency and guarantee the social inclusion of those groups.  All levels of Government should be in compliance with the laws, in order to fight corruption and ensure the full exercise of human rights.  Mexico’s delegate discussed the needs of young people, the elderly and people with disabilities.  Young people made up most of the world’s population and they had to have access to fair work that was sustainable and productive.  The world was ageing and the number of people in the developing world over age 60 would triple from 473 million in 2009 to more than 1.6 billion by 2050.  That demographic change was a development challenge and it was necessary to include that segment of the population in governments’ social strategies.  The needs of persons with disabilities should be included in the financial aspects of all poverty reduction programmes, and more statistics gathering about that group was required.

DENZIL THORPE, Director of Social Security, Ministry of Labour and Social Security of Jamaica, said social insurance, social assistance and labour and employment regulations comprised the main tenets of his country’s social protection system.  Those measures, along with recent policies for free basic health care and free education through the secondary level, went a long way to protect citizens, especially the most vulnerable.  However, scarce resources presented a challenge to extending social protections, and the Government was working to ensure that systems were constantly refined to meet the ultimate goal of eliminating poverty.  In such work, it was important to consider the impact which non-communicable diseases could have on efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  With continued cooperation, all countries would be able to meet their development targets.

MANSOUR SALSABILI (Iran) pointed to the human rights component of people with disabilities and the neglect and discrimination that many of them suffered.  More effective, structured action was needed to implement national commitments related to international instruments to protect their rights.  Ten per cent of the global population suffered from a disability.  Iran had ratified the Disabilities Convention.  There were almost 3 million disabled people in Iran, many of whom had become disabled because of terrorist acts.  Iran had made extensive efforts to mitigate the physical and psychological problems of persons with disabilities.  In recent years, the Government had focused on creating a medical fund, special employment opportunities, housing and sports facilities for people with disabilities.  He hoped that all parties to the Disabilities Convention would adopt steps to implement the treaty, as well as strategies to fully ensure the protection of the rights of people with disabilities.

Aligned with the statements made by the Group of 77 developing countries and China and the Rio Group, BELÉN SAPAG (Chile) stressed the importance of supporting international agreements that promoted the needs of elderly people, such as the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in Latin American and the Caribbean.  Chile was also dedicated to ensuring that a regional approach was carried out to ensure involvement of the elderly in the process of providing for their social inclusion.  Chile welcomed the promotion of the human rights of older people.  It also had supported the rights of persons with disabilities and had ratified the Disabilities Convention.  Additional efforts were needed to ensure the rights of older persons with disabilities.  Many older persons suffered from chronic illnesses, both mental and physical.  Chile’s population had aged over the past 30 years and the Chilean Government was addressing that issue, such as through care for the elderly and home-based assistance.

JANE STEWART, Director of the Office of the International Labour Organization to the United Nations, said that in 2008 an estimated 28 per cent of employed young people, or some 152 million people, did not earn enough to overcome extreme poverty.  The financial crisis had driven youth unemployment to unprecedented heights.  Without urgent action, that situation would be protracted.  In 2009, ILO members had signed the Global Jobs Pact, which was a pledge to take certain measures to prevent a deepening of the impact of the crisis on young people.  Those included employment subsidies to employers who hired youth, financing youth skills’ development programmes in the green economy, and expanding youth public employment services.  By 2050, 2 billion people would be aged 60 or over.  Population ageing would not be a catastrophe if the right policy measures were put in place.  Decent work was a sustainable path out of poverty, but most of the nearly 450 million disabled men and women of working age were unemployed.  The ILO was working with other stakeholders to put the decent work agenda at the heart of disability-inclusive strategies for sustainable development.  In June 2010, the International Labour Conference had adopted landmark conclusions on decent work for domestic workers, including that they should be entitled to fair, decent working conditions and that their concerns should be taken into account in the context of reconciling work and family life.     

PAULO SAAD, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that over the past two years the activities of the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE) had been guided by its resolution 644, which had been adopted at the thirty-second session of the ECLAC Ad Hoc Committee on Population and Development.  That committee was the intergovernmental body in charge of the regional follow-up to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in Latin America and the Caribbean.  CELADE, also known as the Population Division of ECLAC, was the ECLAC focal point on ageing and served as the technical secretariat for the Regional Intergovernmental Conference on Ageing.  It provided technical support to countries that adhered to those agreements and had been asked to strengthen activities aimed at monitoring the agreements signed in the Brasilia Declaration.

He said the Commission was confident that all activities carried out by ECLAC in the field of ageing and development had greatly contributed to increased visibility of the rights of older persons at the national, regional and global levels.  At the 2010 meeting of ECLAC’s Ad Hoc Committee, the priority issues for 2010-2012 had been defined and resolution 657 had been ratified, in which members and associate States of ECLAC were asked to sustain efforts to reinforce the protection of older persons’ rights.

A representative of the International Presentation Association pointed to the downside of corporate globalization, which failed to promote just, equal socioeconomic development and pushed vulnerable people into extreme poverty.  She called on the international community to consider setting up a legally binding regulatory framework for national and transnational corporations that would result in a sustainable society.  

A representative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America said her council, in partnership with the International Orthodox Christian Charities, the Autocephalous Church of Albania and the Agricultural Department of the University of Maryland, was working to help rural farmers in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro increase their income and improve sustainable access to food by educating them about insects and diseases that affected crops, proper preparation of seed beds and new methods to increase farm income and expand market opportunities, among other things.  The project helped farmers be more productive and supply more food to local communities.  She urged Governments to increase investment in small-scale agriculture.      

A representative of the Baha’i International Community said efforts to eradicate human poverty had to be guided by a spirit of human prosperity.  Poverty was not just the lack of material resources, but a lack of ethical resources.  It was necessary to create an environment by which communities and individuals could develop their capacities.  This would provide a starting point to shape the development of human beings.  It was important to appreciate the extent to which young minds were impacted by the choices of their families and communities.  The roles of institutions were not to dictate, but to consult among their members and the people they served.  Vibrant communities were also agents of change and could play a role in developing the capacity of the individual.  Broader visions of human prosperity were needed to achieve well-being and prosperity for all.

Panel Discussion

Commission Chairperson JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela) opened the afternoon panel discussion, on the theme “Emerging issues:  social protection”, by describing as “timely” the choice of social protection as this year’s emerging issue.  While the world had yet to recover from the economic crisis, a growing number of countries were already implementing fiscal austerity measures, reducing social expenditures and cutting public sector jobs.  Evidence suggested that the social consequences of economic crisis were more severe in countries with lower social expenditures and weak social protection systems, he said, adding that social protection measures could shield individuals and families from economic shocks and enhance their capacity to manage and overcome the negative impact of severe economic shocks during crises.

He said the discussion would focus on:  the main challenges to extending social protection; national experiences in overcoming the challenges; successful steps to mobilize financial resources for the implementation or expansion of social protection programmes; labour-market initiatives and social policies to reduce poverty and inequality and help foster more sustained, inclusive and economic growth; and identifying priorities in the context of fiscal consolidation and growing poverty.

The panellists were Michael Cichon, Director, Department of Social Security, International Labour Organization (ILO); Sarah Cook, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD); and Michael Morass, Deputy Head of Unit, External Relations, Neighbourhood, Enlargement, and Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, European Commission.

Mr. CICHON said that by investing 4 per cent of gross domestic product in basic social transfers, low-income countries could reduce the food poverty rate by 40 per cent.  By investing in essential health care for all, the international community could reduce food poverty by another 20 per cent.  However, Governments, the United Nations, major donors and non-governmental organizations must work together to make that happen, he said, emphasizing that a social protection floor was not a ceiling.  It should remain a floor and a basis for systematic social protection systems, even when economies matured and fiscal space grew.

Social protection floors guaranteed access to essential health-care services for all residents, and basic income security for all children, unemployed working-age and elderly people, as well as those with disabilities, he continued.  People could not be productive members of society if they were unhealthy or malnourished, and investing in schooling, training and health would make them employable.  They could afford to pay taxes and for higher levels of social protection.  But 80 per cent of the global population lacked access to adequate social protection, he noted, stressing that countries should have rights-based, systematic insurance against poverty for all residents.

He went on to say that to implement social protection floors, Governments must identify key stakeholders, create a national social protection task force comprising key experts and decision-makers, compile data to take stock of their respective countries’ social protection trends, create social protection policies through national dialogue, evaluate the costs and benefits of different policy options, build national capacity to implement social protection floors, and set up a mechanism to monitor, evaluate and report on progress.  Country ownership of the process was crucial, he said, citing Viet Nam, where the Government budget for social protection had stagnated at 3 to 4 per cent of gross domestic product.  However, when funding from non-State actors was factored in, the overall budget was close to 9 per cent, he added.

Ms. COOK said there were many different expectations surrounding social protection interventions and different ways to meet them.  There were also many risks, ranging from economic crises to individual ill health.  Universal access to social protection programmes must be complemented by social protection interventions targeted towards the poor, she said.

Poverty reduction strategies included social protection programmes and better access to education, health care and housing, she continued, pointing out that social protection programmes were increasingly viewed as an effective way to reduce poverty, inequality and social exclusion; increase income-generating opportunities; and promote social integration.  Social protection was a key component in the fight against poverty, she said, adding that target programmes, such as social assistance and transfers, must be part of a broad social protection system.

Citing the multiple objectives and instruments of social protection, she said they included minimum wage legislation, labour-market regulations and school feeding programmes.  Social protection programmes had increased rapidly in the last decade as part of the development agenda, making the shift from ad hoc safety nets to becoming a broader view of social protection.  Those countries that had successfully reduced income poverty and improved social conditions had done so through comprehensive social protection programmes integrated into broad social and economic development strategies.  Countries that had emphasized narrowly targeted interventions had tended to be less effective in reducing poverty, she noted.

She went on to say that there were many paths that countries could follow to expand social protection programmes.  Those paths depended on various factors, such as policy choices, existing national institutions and the level of economic development.  Costa Rica, for example, had made a strong commitment to the universal provision of education and health services, and had made efforts to increase coverage of contribution-financed social insurance.  It had a high expenditure of social assistance, 5.6 per cent of gross domestic product in 2006, for example, which had been financed through progressive payroll taxes.

Mr. MORASS said that during the financial crisis the world had seen more than ever the need for social protection.  It was important that the global debate focus not merely on setting a social protection floor, but also on expanding the level of social benefits and modernizing social protection.  Despite its prompt response to the economic crisis, the European Union still experienced 9.6 per cent unemployment, he said, adding that youth unemployment was as high as 40 per cent in some States and that 80 million Europeans still lived below the poverty line.

Social security expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product in Europe had risen during the recent financial crisis, he said, adding that countries with mature social security systems and balanced budgets at the beginning of crisis had enjoyed more fiscal space within which to manoeuvre and protect people.  While short-term labour arrangements had affected labour productivity somewhat negatively, they helped some European States quickly return to higher levels of production.  The use of discretionary stimulus measures had exacted a price, with public debt rising from 20 per cent of gross domestic product to 79 per cent, he said.  The Europe 2020 strategy aimed to increase the employment rate to 75 per cent of the working population and to lift 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by the end of the current decade.

Health insurance was compulsory in the European Union, reflecting the deep consensus and political will among its societies that social protection work to reduce poverty, he said.  The regional poverty rate, currently 16 per cent, would be as high as 40 per cent had social protection not existed, he said, pointing out that Europe had no single social protection model.  Social protection expenditures varied from 13 per cent of gross domestic product in Estonia to 35 per cent in Sweden, he added.

Noting that life expectancy was increasing in Europe, he said it had risen by four years over the last two decades.  Since people lived longer, there was a need to keep them employed longer and to address the impact of the population’s ageing on the pension system.  European countries had embarked on reforms in the last few years to ensure that pension systems remained socially adequate, he said, emphasizing the need to increase the participation of older persons in the labour market by eliminating early retirement schemes and focusing on providing proper health and safety conditions.

Questions and Answers

Delegates queried the panellists on a wide range of topics, including how successful countries had been in monitoring the segments of society impacted by the economic crisis and the role of social protection measures in alleviating that impact.  One delegate asked whether the impact of climate change on social protection systems could be measured.  Another said the crisis had put pressure on budgets and it was difficult for developing countries to ensure sufficient funding for social protection.  Did the panellists have any methods by which they ensured sufficient funding?

Another representative asked how States could use labour-market regulations to ensure an inclusive social policy.  How did countries ensure the sustainability of spending?  Other questions focused on the social element of the Bretton Woods institutions as well as the role of women and the aging population.  What was the role of industrialized countries in promoting South-South cooperation and how could social protection programmes be established in such a manner as to get people back to work?  Another delegate asked how policies could be established for people with disabilities who were not in the formal economy.

Mr. MORASS, responding on the issue of how States could use labour-market regulations to ensure an inclusive social policy, said the European Union’s approach combined active labour-market measures to support transitions from one job to another as well as life-long learning and social protection that facilitated employment over the long term.  Europe had a strong model of social dialogue which involved social partners in designing protection measures, in addition to providing health insurance and workplace pensions.  He rejected the argument that keeping older workers in the labour market stole jobs from younger workers trying to enter it, noting that early-retirement schemes intended to open space for younger workers limited economic potential by retiring productive older workers who could help recovery.

Ms. COOK said that while not all social protection programmes could be universal, they must always ensure coverage for everyone in need.  Pensions based on one’s income did not necessarily lead to the kind of expanded coverage desired in poor countries, she said, stressing that, on the contrary, they probably created less social cohesion.  Countries should aim for policies that did not stigmatize people for being poor or vulnerable.  She commended the African Union’s social policy framework, which focused on broad policy approaches rather than the types of targeted social policy programmes often favoured by external donors.  Lower-income countries often had more progressive social welfare programmes than higher-income ones that employed targeted approaches that left people behind, she said.  Regarding the policies of the Bretton Woods institutions, she said they often allowed macroeconomic policy to dictate social protection policies.

Mr. CICHON said countries could not make people more productive by leaving them in unproductive jobs, failing to educate them well and neglecting to ensure their good health.  Regarding social protection funding, he said it incorporated a wide range, varying from 3 per cent to 12 per cent of gross domestic product in some cases.  Fiscal space was not God-given but man-made, he said, emphasizing that Governments must have reserves to fund social protection.  They could build them through the tax and general revenue systems, he added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.