14 February 2011
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on Importance of Social Protection in Eradicating Poverty


Stressing that social security was a human right, a senior International Labour Organization (ILO) official today spotlighted the issue of social protection and its importance in poverty eradication at a Headquarters press conference on a United Nations-backed programme aimed at promoting investment in and access to essential services and social transfers for poor and vulnerable communities.

Michael Cichon, Director of the ILO’s Social Security Department, said stakeholders seemed to have long forgotten that social security was indeed a human right.  The result was that nearly 80 per cent of the planet’s people did not benefit from a set of social guarantees that would otherwise allow them access to services including water and sanitation, food and adequate nutrition, health, education and housing, which would enable them to deal with life’s risks.  As such, there was a need for a “social protection floor” below which no one should fall, he continued, emphasizing that creating such a safety net would seem like a relatively simple exercise, particularly since it would take as little as 2 to 3 per cent of global gross domestic product to do so.

Yet, there was not enough political will or cooperation between and among Governments to take the matter forward with any conviction, he said.  The ILO had, therefore, been stressing that proper social transfers, such as social security or unemployment benefits, could ensure social stability and reduce poverty, in line with the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals.  “There is an emerging development paradigm that, without investing in basic social protection, there can be no growth,” he said, reiterating that investment in basic health, nutrition, and education was critical to ensuring productive populations and to removing poverty roadblocks.  Ensuring basic family benefits was a tangible element of that goal, and developing countries that had put basic social protection plans in place had made significant gains towards eradicating poverty.

With that in mind, he said, he planned to highlight, in his address to the Commission on Social Development later this afternoon, the United Nations Social Protection Floor initiative, which aimed to ensure the availability and continuity of, as well as geographical and financial access to, essential services by ensuring a basic set of social transfers to provide a minimum income and livelihood security for poor and vulnerable populations (See Press Release SOC/4774 of 14 February).

He went on to state that the initiative sought four main “guarantees”:  children should have basic income security; people in active age groups with insufficient income, as well as older persons, should have basic income security; people over a certain age should have old-age pensions; and all people should have universal health services.  “You think that this is a [utopian idea]?  Well, it isn’t,” he said, stressing that implementing the initiative in a developing country with an expenditure as little as 3 to 4 per cent of gross domestic product could reduce the poverty head count by about 40 per cent.

If basic heath services were added, another 20 per cent could be added to that number, he continued.  “I don’t know of any other instrument as powerful as that,” he said, adding that those who doubted that 3 or 4 per cent of gross domestic product could be retrieved from developing countries should recognize that the fiscal space in Africa had grown by about 4 per cent between 2002 and 2007.  There was no reason why at least some of that fiscal growth could be earmarked for social protection.

The key challenge would be to defend the fiscal space until the initiative bore fruit, he said, noting that, although there had been major support for social transfers at the height of the global financial and economic crisis, support for social benefit packages was eroding now that the crisis was starting to ebb somewhat.  That was especially the case in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries where Governments were presenting budgets characterized by deep cuts to social programmes.  That meant that, in the end, the disabled, sick and poor would suffer most, he said.

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For information media • not an official record