Mr. Eliott Harris Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist

Remarks
at the Lunchtime event to launch the Report on the World Social Situation 2018:
Promoting Inclusion through Social Protection

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

The High-level Political Forum which concluded yesterday, highlighted once again the unprecedented social progress humankind has achieved in the last decades. It also underscored, however, that people and members of social groups everywhere, confront barriers that prevent them from fully participating in social, economic, political and cultural life.

It is against this backdrop of high inequalities and persistent social exclusion that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s central pledge to leave no one behind has become a rallying cry for inclusive development.

But leaving no one behind and promoting social inclusion are not simple goals. A person’s chances in life depend significantly on social distinctions that place them and communities into unequal groups. In particular, ethnicity, age, gender, disability and migrant status influence access to opportunities, including health and education services, jobs, income and participation in political and civic life.

Not only are these differences in life’s chances fundamentally unfair, as Agenda 2030 recognizes, they also lead to wasted human potential and lost development opportunities.

Yet exclusion is not destiny. The institutions, laws and policies that local and national governments put in place, matter.

The Voluntary National Review Reports that were presented during this year’s High-level Political Forum demonstrated that many countries are mainstreaming their commitment to leave no one behind into their national plans and programmes. They have done so through measures such as progressive taxation, social transfers and increased public spending on education, health and employment services. That is why most countries explicitly mentioned social protection as a key policy area to leave no one behind. Overall, efforts to create accessible and inclusive environments have a positive impact on those individuals and groups that are furthest behind.

However, as the Voluntary National Review Reports also acknowledge, prejudice and discrimination continue to be a key barrier to social inclusion. Discriminatory practices continue to affect the opportunities that people have, and their overall well-being.

There is certainly growing awareness of the risks of leaving some people behind. But this awareness has not yet fully translated into the normative shifts that are necessary to promote their inclusion.

As recognized by the 2030 Agenda, social protection is a potent policy tool to reduce poverty and promote social inclusion. Yet despite rapid progress in extending social protection coverage in many countries, access to social protection is uneven. It varies widely between countries, groups and individuals within countries depending on their age, gender, disability or migrant status, race or ethnicity.

The Report on the World Social Situation 2018: Promoting Inclusion through Social Protection brings attention to these disparities by surveying access to social protection programmes among seven priority groups: children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, international migrants, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.

The Report recommends a stronger equity lens to the design and implementation of social protection systems. It argues for universal social protection that is sensitive to the needs of a diverse population at every stage of the life-cycle. That is, the report advocates for social protection systems that provide universal coverage; but, it also highlights the need for measures tailored to the needs of individuals and groups at high risk of exclusion.

Every country can provide some form of social protection to its citizens. Expanding access to social protection programmes is often a matter of political will rather than affordability. With political will, Governments can reach SDG target 1.3 to implement nationally-appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.

I look forward to the discussion and to your ideas for promoting inclusive social protection systems and leaving no one behind.

Thank you.

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