Fighting inequality becomes top priority for UN Social Development Commission

Following more than a week of discussions between a record number of ministers, vice-ministers and other high-level country officials, the UN Commission for Social Development closed its 56th session on Wednesday, with a call to tackle the threat that inequality poses to development.

“All countries in the world have stark and persistent inequalities, which in many cases have grown in recent decades,” said Nikulás Hannigan, Chair of the Commission’s 56th session, in his closing speech. “Inequality threatens long-term social and economic development and harms not just those who are excluded but also has the potential to undermine the fabric of the society.”

While nearly 1.1 billion people have risen from extreme poverty since 1990, vulnerable groups, which include women, children, youth, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and older persons, still suffer greater degrees of poverty.

Countries will discuss the best ways of reducing the growing distance between the “haves” and the “have-nots” at the Commission’s next session, which will open early next year with the theme “Addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies.”

“Reducing inequality has clear social and economic benefits, it strengthens people’s sense that society is fair and improves social cohesion and mobility,” said Mr. Hannigan. He warned that the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 on reducing inequalities, risked becoming an “orphan goal,” as it has no obvious institutional and thematic “home.”

“I believe that this Commission could contribute importantly to the universal commitment to tackle inequality within and between countries by making the standalone goal on reducing inequalities the focus of its work and of its overall mandate,” he said.

Civil society has the floor

With the robust participation of civil society representatives, the Commission has, for the first time, included the Civil Society Forum in its official agenda. Held under the theme “Social Protection, Including Floors,” the Forum discussed the issue of social protection floors – basic social security guarantees, including at least the access to essential health care, basic income security and the necessary goods and services.

“The evidence clearly shows that universal social protection is a very powerful tool for development that can tackle inequality and social exclusion,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UN DESA chief Liu Zhenmin. “Very few countries around the world have been able to reduce poverty and improve living conditions on a broad scale without comprehensive social protection systems. Freedom from deprivation is not only a recognized right, it is a central goal of social development.”

Informed decisions

The Commission also featured four high-level panel discussions on issues ranging from strategies to eradicate poverty, to ageing, disabilities and the impact of new technologies on development. Presenting cutting-edge research by top experts from around the world, these panels helped countries take informed decisions, as they adopted draft resolutions of the Commission.

Cover photo:  © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

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