Inequality has become a defining issue of the present time that must be addressed through social protection policies, including progressive taxation in favour of low-income families as well as public spending to support vulnerable populations, delegates told the opening of the fifty-seventh session of the Commission for Social Development today.
“With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, combating inequality and social protection has moved to the centre of the policy agenda in all countries,” said Cheikh Niang (Senegal), the Commission Chair, following his election to the role.
He said that a growing body of evidence shows that income inequality has been on the rise in many countries while unequal social opportunities continue to persist, whether its access to decent work, quality education and health care or to productive assets such as land and credit, calling on delegates to not only highlight the impact of inequality on people and communities but also to point to fiscal, wage and social protection policies that have shown to be effective in addressing inequality and challenges to social inclusion.
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed outlined some measures to rectify inequality, namely through public financing, wage growth and social protection policies, arguing that Governments should raise revenues rather than cutting social expenditures.
Valentin Rybakov (Belarus), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that inequality is becoming the “defining issue of our time”, with health and education disparities remaining high. In some countries, children in the lowest 20 per cent of income distribution are nearly three times more likely to be underweight and twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday. “These figures show that we are currently moving in the wrong direction,” he stressed, adding that “a world in which extreme wealth coexists with extreme poverty is a world of strife”.
Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani (Qatar), Vice-President of the General Assembly, said that the extension of pensions has been shown to be the most notable advance in expanding social protection in recent decades. Almost 68 per cent of older persons received a pension in 2016. However, only 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities, 35 per cent of children and 22 per cent of unemployed workers received benefits.
Also addressing the opening segment was a representative from a non-governmental organization, who said the Commission is meeting when many Governments are implementing austerity measures or turning to the private sector to fill the gaps. But it is at this time that States must step up, protecting people and promoting more social inclusion by distributing resources more justly, he emphasized.
Echoing the previous speaker, a youth representative called for a tax regime that is people-centred and planet-sensitive, and proposed the creation of a global, universal body tasked with taxing wealth and resource extraction.
During the ensuing general debate, Mohammad Shtayyeh, Minister of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction of the State of Palestine, delivered a statement on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and expressed deep concern that more than 20 years after the World Summit for Social Development, progress has been slow and uneven and major gaps remain. In this regard, he went on to highlight the fundamental role of international cooperation, North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation and renewed partnerships to support national efforts.
Romania’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, pointed out that high inequality hampers growth and undermines social cohesion. “Income inequality in the European Union would have been much higher without the redistributive effects of taxes and transfers.” Significant public expenditure on health care, education, employment, social cohesion, pensions and long-term care are also key parts of the European model, he noted.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion titled “Addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies.”
Also speaking during the general debate were representatives of Viet Nam (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Trinidad and Tobago (for the Caribbean Community), Benin (for the African Group), Ghana (for the Economic Community of West African States), Chile (for the Group of Older Persons), Peru, and Austria. Ghana’s delegate also delivered a national statement.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 12 February, to continue its work programme.
Following his election, by acclamation, as the Chair of the fifty-seventh session of the Commission for Social Development, CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal) noted that the theme for the 2019 session is “addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies”. He explained that with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, combating inequality and social protection has moved to the centre of the policy agenda in all countries. A growing body of evidence shows that income inequality has been on the rise in many countries while unequal social opportunities continue to persist, whether its access to decent work, quality education and health care or to productive assets such as land and credit. And too many people are trapped in extreme poverty and they don’t benefit from the rising tide driven by economic growth, a reminder that market-driven growth alone is not enough to guarantee that no one is left behind. The Commission’s deliberations should not only highlight the impact that inequality is having on people and communities, it should also point to fiscal, wage and social protection policies that have shown to have more and better impact in addressing inequality and challenges to social inclusion.
VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, delivered a statement on behalf of the organ’s President, noting that the its high-level political forum will review six of the Sustainable Development Goals — all under the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” — during its July session. That topic is closely aligned with the Commission’s own annual theme, he said, emphasizing that inequality is indeed becoming the “defining issue of our time”. Research reveals that where people are born and where they live has a strong influence on their life opportunities.
Noting that income inequality has increased in many parts of the world and that health and education disparities remain high, he pointed out that in some countries children in the lowest 20 per cent of income distribution are nearly three times more likely to be underweight and twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday. “These figures show that we are currently moving in the wrong direction,” he stressed, adding that “a world in which extreme wealth coexists with extreme poverty is a world of strife”. The Council is committed to addressing those challenges, and to strengthening the role of its functional commissions — including the Commission for Social Development — to do the same.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), Vice-President of the General Assembly, delivering a statement on behalf of organ’s President, María Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador, declared: “At a time when multilateralism is facing headwinds, it is imperative that we demonstrate that [it] constitutes the best and only way to address the global challenges that stand in the way of sustainable development.” First and foremost, the global community must deliver on the 2030 Agenda’s central goal of eradicating poverty and leaving no one behind. Those at risk currently lack opportunities for participation; are excluded due to age, gender, disability or indigenous or migratory status; endure isolation due to their place of residence or face disadvantage due to inequitable laws, policies or institutions; face income or food insecurity; and have less chances to benefit from quality education, health care or social protection.
In that regard, she said, the extension of pensions has been shown to be the most notable advance in expanding social protection in recent decades. Almost 68 per cent of older persons received a pension in 2016. However, only 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities, 35 per cent of children and 22 per cent of unemployed workers received benefits. Without a sustainable development paradigm shift, the furthest behind will continue to be locked out of global progress, unable to benefit from or participate in the global economy or frontier technologies. Noting that a Summit of Heads of State and Government — slated for September — will review overall progress on the 2030 Agenda, she said the meeting will also raise political momentum and mobilize further action. The Commission must provide inputs both to that summit and to the Economic and Social Council’s political forum, including concrete policy advice on how countries can leverage fiscal, wage and social protection policies to address inequality and challenges to social inclusion.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the 2019 theme of the Commission highlights the critical aspect of the 2030 Agenda, with about 1.3 billion people facing multidimensional poverty and 3 billion people living without decent employment. Identifying three areas for action, she stressed the importance of public investment in social protection, including through innovative financing, reforming tax administration and fighting illicit financial flows. The focus should not be on cutting social expenditures. Since the end of the global financial crisis, wage growth has remained stagnant while the unemployment rate has declined. In particular, gender pay gaps leave many people behind. Government policies favouring the few privileged are responsible for this stagnation in wage growth. There is increased recognition about the need for the social protection floor, she said, welcoming the International Labour Organization (ILO) instrument adopted in 2012 for guaranteeing basic levels of social protection. About 4 billion people live without social protection. The United Nations and its country teams help them improve their lives. She said she has great expectations on the work of the Commission, which can recalibrate social contracts, calling on the body to achieve robust outcomes from this session and take them forward to the General Assembly.
DANIEL PERELL, Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee for Social Development, said the Commission is meeting against the backdrop of widespread dissatisfaction with the prevailing economic order. Facing challenges, many Governments are implementing austerity measures or turning to the private sector to fill the gaps. But it is at this time that States must step up, protecting people and promoting more social inclusion, he said, adding that while the international community has been able to identify many of the symptoms of an “ailing world order”, it has still failed to address its root causes. What was once a shortage of resources is now a matter of ensuring that resources are more justly distributed. Urging the Commission to focus on the social dimension of those challenges, he spotlighted Sustainable Development Goal 10 on reducing inequality as the core of its work.
Recalling that the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development paired the concept of inclusion with that of social cohesion, he said today many groups are struggling to define themselves and their place in the world. There are competing ideologies, power struggles and divisions. However, young people in particular are increasingly demanding more unity. Therefore, he proposed that the Commission focus in 2020 on the theme of social cohesion. Emphasizing that a unified vision of that kind will require a “historic feat of statesmanship” from the world’s leaders, he pointed out that summoning the common will of humanity is possible today in ways that were unthinkable to previous generations. Against that backdrop, the non-governmental community stands ready to play its part.
REGINE GUEVARA, Youth Representative, delivered a statement on behalf of the Major Group for Children and Youth, noting that climate change and social inequality represent two of the greatest challenges to people and the planet. Underlining the importance of addressing the world’s complex interdependences, she said the least fortunate are nevertheless inherently left behind in today’s prevailing economic system. Drawing attention to the plight of tens of millions of people who have been forced to flee their homes in recent years, for example, she said conversations about how economic growth and efficiency can improve lives must focus on enabling humanity to thrive within planetary boundaries. “We need to learn to collectively share our resources,” she said, calling for a tax regime that is people-centred and planet-sensitive. In addition, she called for the creation of a global, universal tax body tasked, among other things, with taxing wealth and resource extraction. Meanwhile, divisions should be broken down between urban and rural populations, men and women, older and younger generations. “We already know what to do and where to start,” she stressed, asking: “Will your generation work with mine?”
Election of Officers and Adoption of Agenda
The Commission proceeded to elect by acclamation Carolina Popovici (Republic of Moldova), Helene Inga Stankiewicz Von Ernst (Iceland) and Fabricio Araujo Prado (Brazil) as Vice-Chairs of the session. Mr. Prado will serve as Rapporteur.
The Commission then adopted the provisional agenda contained in document E/CN.5/2019/1 and its corrigendum.
Introduction of Reports
DANIELA BAS, Director, Division for Social Policy, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced several reports of the Secretary‑General: “Addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies” (document E/CN.5/2019/3); “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2019/2); “Accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by, for and with persons with disabilities” (document E/CN.5/2019/4); “Policies and programmes involving youth” (document E/CN.5/2019/5); “Implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes” (document A/74/61–E/2019/4); and “Emerging issues: Empowerment of people affected by natural and human-made disasters to reduce inequality: addressing the impacts on persons with disabilities, older persons and youth” (document E/CN.5/2019/7).
MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH, Minister of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction of the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing nations and China, said that the bloc remains deeply concerned that more than 20 years after the adoption of the World Summit for Social Development, progress has been slow and uneven and major gaps remain. Current trends reflect that income inequality has persisted or even increased within many countries, undermining efforts to eradicate poverty. Environment degradation and climate change exacerbate inequality by overexposing the poorest and most vulnerable among them as they tend to have few means to cope and adapt. The Group believes that fiscal, wage and social protection policies can significantly contribute to reducing inequality, including sustained investments in public services and progressive tax systems. The Group notes, however, national capacities differ, reiterating the fundamental role of international cooperation, North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation and renewed partnerships to support national efforts. The Group is committed to removing obstacles to the full realization of the rights of peoples to self-determination in all cases, in particular for those living under colonial and foreign occupation and other forms of alien domination.
ION JINGA (Romania), speaking on behalf of the European Union, recalled that the bloc’s first Social Summit in 20 years was held in 2017. Members, as well as the European Parliament and the European Commission, jointly proclaimed the “European Pillar of Social Rights” as their main guidance for implementing the social dimensions of the 2030 Agenda, focusing on three main ideas: Equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and social inclusion. Pointing out that high inequality hampers growth and undermines social cohesion, he noted: “Income inequality in the European Union would have been much higher without the redistributive effects of taxes and transfers.” Significant public expenditure on health care, education, employment, social cohesion, pensions and long-term care are also key parts of the European model. Meanwhile, statutory minimum wage floors and collectively bargained minimum wages are also in place. Outlining the kinds of support provided by the bloc’s social protection schemes, he also stressed the importance of the environmental pillar and linked the transition to a low-carbon economy to fair, inclusive and supportive policies. In addition, the Union has invested in a youth guarantee providing good education and employment options — leading to the lowest youth unemployment level on record in Europe — as well as policies to reduce gender wage gaps and promote a balance between work and family life.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the 2030 Agenda and the group’s Vision 2025 are both entering their fourth year of implementation. These two frameworks share many complementarities in uplifting the living standards of peoples. But persistent disparities remain in access to education, employment and health services on the basis of gender, urban-rural location and other factors. The Initiative for ASEAN Integration, which was launched in 2000, has served as a framework for mutual assistance and cooperation to narrow the development gap in the region. ASEAN is committed to fully tapping the opportunities arising from the digital revolution and applying new technologies and innovations to enhance the quality of life for its citizens. ASEAN is unwavering in its commitment to enhance the well-being and improve the quality of life of older persons, children, women, youth, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. In 2016, ASEAN leaders adopted the Vientiane Declaration on transition from informal to formal employment towards decent work promotion.
PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that this session’s theme is well-aligned to the agenda of the small island developing States comprised of the Barbados Programme of Action, the Mauritius Strategy and the Samoa Pathway, as well as the 2030 Agenda. “For our region, higher education spending has been the most important driver behind the declining trend in income inequality”. However, despite these notable advances and significant milestones such as reductions in maternal and child mortality, expansions in basic education, improvements in infrastructure and access, social development has been uneven and fragile. The Community continues to grapple with key challenges including the adverse impacts of climate change, the deleterious effects of natural hazards and skill gaps in major economic sectors. The rising level of youth unemployment is a serious concern as it contributes to a widening poverty gap. To promote decent work, the Community’s Council on Human and Social Development developed the 2030 Human Resource Development Strategy. The members of the Community cooperate in public health through the establishment of the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
JEAN-CLAUDE FÉLIX DO REGO (Benin), speaking on behalf of the African States and associating himself with the Group of 77, said the world’s poorest people need access to credit, education and training, as well as job opportunities and decision-making. Calling for a structural transformation enabling inclusive economic growth, he said stronger universal health care systems are also needed to address the consequences of poverty — including malnutrition and nutrition — in many African countries. Investments should focus on balanced rural development and an inclusive infrastructure benefiting poor people and persons with disabilities. Noting that development has not sufficiently benefited the region’s poorest people, he said the continent has among the world’s highest income inequalities and its economic backbone remains highly dependent on the informal economy. Across the continent, countries are addressing such challenges under the auspices of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and are working to mobilize the necessary domestic resources. However, those funds are insufficient to address Africa’s economic bottleneck, he stressed, calling for international coordination, debt alleviation, new funding sources and the full implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for development financing. He also expressed concern over such challenges as human trafficking and modern-day slavery, which are present in the region, and called for justice for victims.
CYNTHIA MAMLE MORRISON, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, speaking on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said the subregion promotes cooperation and regional integration as a tool for accelerated economic development in West Africa. Its Vision 2020 plan aims to significantly raise the standard of living through inclusive policies that guarantee a bright future, she said, adding that States of the region are also committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda and leaving no one behind. “To improve the terms on which people take part in society means to enhance their ability, opportunity and dignity,” she said, noting that social exclusion can be based on membership in groups such as gender, race, caste, religion and others. Those often lead to lower social standing and lower income and access outcomes. Women in the region are more likely to be poor, marginalized from decision-making, unemployed or employed in unpaid labour. Outlining ECOWAS policies to promote opportunities for women, she said skills development programmes and employment access plans are also in place for young people. Turning to the challenge of child marriage — a major threat to the region’s social fabric — she drew attention to the ECOWAS Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems as well as other response strategies. Noting that social protection rates in most West African countries stands below 10 per cent, she described that number as unacceptable and described efforts to extend and enhance social protection coverage.
SEBASTIÁN VILLARREAL, Vice-Minister for Social Development of Chile, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that the increased number of older persons globally and the growing trend of ageing societies all over the world represent a significant change to the demographic structures of societies. The number of older persons is projected to grow by 46 per cent globally between 2017 and 2030, outnumbering youth and children under 10 years old. While this presents significant opportunities, it imposes a series of new challenges to development. Greater attention must be paid to the specific challenges faced by older persons, including poverty, inadequate living conditions, homelessness, neglect, abuse, violence, malnutrition, unattended chronic diseases, lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, unaffordable medicines and treatments and income insecurity. It is vital to design and implement programmes and policies that meet the needs of older persons.
ROSA HUERTAS (Peru) said that her country is proactively addressing social protection issues, including the fight against corruption that makes governance impossible. Social protection policies are reaching all concerns of her country. One clear example is progress on the fight against child anaemia. The rate of children who die from anaemia is still high but has already begun to move in the right direction. To improve the life of the population, the Government has designed policies based on investments. It has also created State policy based on the fundamental rights of people throughout the life cycle and during crisis times, such as climate-related disasters. Peru’s social protection policy is in line with the 2030 Agenda and the United Nations social protection floor. Peru faces new challenges, such as urban poverty and demographic changes driven by international migration, which require new policies and responses.
CYNTHIA MORRISON (Ghana) said her country has made major strides towards reducing poverty and eradicating extreme poverty. Its economy expanded by 8.5 per cent in 2017, and since 2008 the Government has been implementing social protection interventions in such areas as ageing, education and affirmative action. Outlining five flagship initiatives, she described the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty programme; the Ghana School Feeding Programme; the National Health Insurance Scheme; and an Education Capital Grant, among others. Beginning in 2019, the country’s productive safety net project — supported by the World Bank — will support graduated beneficiaries of other anti-poverty schemes with training, coaching and mentoring to take part in labour markets. Addressing inequality and related challenges also require innovative and robust social protection systems, institutional structures and strong political commitments. Notwithstanding such work, she said inadequate funding and a lack of sustainable finance still poses a threat and called for stronger partnerships and collaboration among States.
BEATE HARTINGER-KLEIN, Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection of Austria, associating herself with the European Union, said her Government is planning to adopt a new “minimum income scheme” law providing more assistance for single parents and persons with disabilities, as well as others in need of care. “On the other hand, we are linking benefits even more closely to people’s willingness to participate in the labour market and this to integrate into society,” she said, describing Austria’s contribution-based, pay-as-you-go pension system. Other measures are aimed at raising employment levels and quickly integrating people into the national labour market, she said, adding that active market policies provide tailored, personalized employment programmes for young people, lower-skilled people, mothers re-entering the workforce, persons with disabilities and elderly persons. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance contributions for low and middle-income earners will benefit up to 900,000 people. Outlining additional policies — including family bonuses and longer-term care benefits — she said Austria adopted its first National Action Plan on Disability in 2012 and established a Senior Citizen’s Council to represent the interests of one quarter of the population.
High-level Panel Discussion
This afternoon, the Commission convened a high-level session on the priority theme “Addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies”. Moderated by Elliott Harris, United Nations Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, it featured a keynote address by Lucas Chancel, Co‐Director of the World Inequality Lab and of the World Inequality Database at the Paris School of Economics and Lecturer at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).
The discussion also featured six panellists: Andrei Dapkiunas, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus; Sebastian Villarreal, Under-Secretary for Social Services, Chile; Hao Bin, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation, Ministry for Human Resources and Social Security of China; Stanfield Michelo, Master Trainer, African Regional Social Protection Leadership Curriculum (TRANSFORM) and former Director of Social Protection of Zambia; Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of the global union federation, Public Services International (PSI); and Manuela Tomei, Director of the Conditions of Work and Employment Department, International Labour Organization (ILO). Participating as the lead discussant was Gil S. Beltran, Deputy Minister for Finance and Undersecretary of the Department for Finance, Philippines.
Mr. CHANCEL, delivering a keynote address, said there has always been — and will always be, to some extent — inequality between and within countries. However, if those levels get too high, they can lead to catastrophe. Today’s financial system “has been built around principles of opacity” and public statistics have largely been built around averages, leading to a data gap and an overall lack of transparency. To shed more light, the World Inequality Lab and Database tracks tax data and surveys, finding in its 2018 “World Inequality Report” that despite high growth in the developing world, there has been an overall rise in global inequality. Since 1980, the top 1 per cent of earners captured twice as much income growth as the bottom 50 per cent of the world population.
Citing a rise in private capital — and a simultaneous sharp drop in public capital — across wealthy nations, he warned that “that gives countries much less room to manoeuvre” through public investments. In that context, he underlined the importance of egalitarian investments in education in public health, urging the United Nations to push forward new, more realistic indicators — that finally go “beyond [gross domestic product]” — and to create a global financial registry to fight tax evasion.
Mr. HARRIS declared: “We are finally looking at the problem of inequality in its face.” Indeed, the world finally sees the many harms caused by extreme inequality, which curtails important public investments, undermines trust in institutions and social cohesion and can even lead to conflict. “This is not automatic, it is the result of policy choices,” he stressed, asking the panellists to provide perspectives and propose solutions to reverse those trends.
Mr. DAPKIUNAS said his country, Belarus, shares a common problem with many other middle-income nations — increasing inequality and a growing gap in the standard of living between the poor and the wealthy. Calling for more support from regional organizations, the United Nations and global financial institutions, he said States, society and business must all play a role in addressing inequality. Belarus also strives to develop social entrepreneurship and involve civil society in those efforts, including by providing support for small and medium-sized enterprises and woman-run businesses. In addition, he said, the Government is working to provide more support for ageing persons; predict and respond to the social changes resulting from technological progress; and progressively develop education systems and labour markets. Countries should also work together, assisted by the United Nations, to address emerging social challenges.
Mr. HAO outlined China’s efforts to address the challenges and social barriers facing rural migrant workers. Noting that a significant percentage of China’s labour force consists of such workers, he said the Government has put in place safety schemes for those employed in the construction sector as well as a plan to ensure the full payment of wages. New pensions and medical insurance plans were introduced in the 1990s, but by the end of 2008, only a small percentage of workers were covered by pensions — and most were in urban areas. Since that time, the Government facilitated a sharp increase in that coverage, and today 95 per cent of the population has access to health insurance. Displaying a graph showing the progressive drop in China’s rural poverty rate since 2012, he said the Government has committed to a clear, people-centred vision backed by firm political will.
Mr. VILLAREAL, sharing Chile’s experience, spotlighted the country’s success in reducing its poverty rate by 20 per cent since 2006. Its inclusive social policies are rooted in the principles of creativity, innovation, justice and solidarity, with particularly strong support for families. Many benefits — including basic health care and both primary and secondary education — are universal and free across society. In 2018, Chile introduced a draft law aimed at ending inequality in higher education which will ensure that no qualified person will be left out based on a lack of resources. The country’s social protection scheme targets families in the greatest need with cash transfers and economic incentives targeting women and others likely to work in the informal sector. Emphasizing that today’s inequalities are complex, he stressed that, like Chile, countries should put in place a range of responses — even if the costs are significant.
Mr. MICHELO, outlining inequalities within Zambian society, said extreme poverty rates are higher among the country’s female-headed households and individuals with disabilities, among other marginalized groups. Between 2003 and 2005, the Government undertook a series of interventions — including cash transfers — under the auspices of the National Social Protection Strategy. As a result, a 2013 impact evaluation study revealed a drop in “headcount poverty” of 5.4 percentage points and a reduction in the poverty gap of more than 10 per cent. In addition, the Government is enhancing income opportunities for poor and marginalized groups, especially girls and women. Those programmes aim to expand women’s empowerment, not only in decision-making but also over their own bodies, he said.
Ms. PAVANELLI said a “new liberal age” beginning in the 1980s drove a shift to privatize resources that should be public, while introducing new asset classes such as student loans. Every year, millions fall below the poverty line and fewer young people can complete their studies. Warning that wage inequality remains high and wages remain insufficient to cover basic needs in many countries, she said fair labour relationships are needed to increase wages and create decent jobs. The current “broken system” allows large corporations to benefit from tax evasion and corruption, she said, calling for a flat tax for multinational corporations and ultimately for the creation of an intergovernmental tax oversight and transparency body in the United Nations. Public-private partnerships — called for in the 2030 Agenda — are in fact at odds with the goal of leaving no one behind, as they do not expand access to quality services and are driving States’ long-term debt.
Ms. TOMEI said economic trends in rich countries reveal that changes in employment patterns and wage distribution have been drivers of inequality. Social transfers correct inequalities in part, but do not address the source of the problem. Calling for measures that combine both social protection policies and wage policies, she said ILO has always advocated for wage-related policies — including a minimum wage — as an important social justice tool and a way to “level the playing field”. Minimum wage laws, while sometimes controversial, can reduce gender wage gaps and reduce inequality. However, minimum wages only set a floor — collective bargaining can set wages above that floor while enabling workers to benefit from a fair share of the fruits of their labours. In addition, minimum wages should be regularly adjusted in consultation with employers, and not lie dormant for years while inflation rises, and must be strictly enforced.
Mr. BELTRAN shared the Philippines’ experience, describing national efforts to strike a balance between keeping the growth high and protecting people. Recent fiscal reforms include a marginal tax increase aimed at accelerating infrastructure investment as well as boosting investments in the population — including through education, health care and social protection programmes. The role of Government has evolved from that of an active player several decades ago to that of a “referee” and enforcer of collective bargaining agreements. The private sector, meanwhile, is driving the country’s growth today. Those changes are set against the backdrop of a broad national microinsurance initiative, which helped thousands of people rebuild their lives following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
In the ensuing discussion, several speakers said the panellists’ presentations demonstrated that all countries are struggling with the same challenges. Many outlined their own countries’ experiences and achievements in reducing inequality, describing concrete policies such as those incentivizing employers to provide more stability and higher wages. Meanwhile, some delegates cited stubborn challenges including slow wage growth, limited domestic resources and increasing digitalization, calling for a “new paradigm” to address inequality and poverty.
The European Union’s was among the speakers who welcomed recent progress in expanding social protection schemes around the world. However, he also asked the panellists what can be done to ensure social protection coverage for the more than 50 per cent of people who still lack it.
One delegate asked the panellists for their thoughts about pre-tax market outcomes, in other words, whether they considered inequality to be acceptable at any stage or level — provided Governments later swoop in to redistribute such wealth. Another speaker asked them to elaborate on the appropriate balance between private and private capital.
Several speakers, including the representatives of Algeria and the Dominican Republic, spotlighted the importance of education and reducing illiteracy. The former stressed that “it is only when an individual is educated that one knows one’s rights” and can address the challenges before him or her.
Mr. HARRIS, posing several additional questions, asked all speakers to consider whether they felt the tools needed to drive down inequality are currently available. He also asked how effective fiscal and wage policies can be in informal employment settings.
Ms. TOMEI, responding to the questions posed by the European Union’s delegate, said social protection systems must be linked to the quality of employment. The idea is to reduce the pressure on social protection schemes by improving work, she said, noting that all workers — irrespective of their contractual status — should be able to benefit from social protection systems.
Mr. HAO agreed with various speakers who called on the United Nations — and the Commission in particular — to promote social protection schemes at the global level.
Mr. MICHELO said expanding social protection to the informal employment sector will require stronger capacity at the national, organizational and individual levels.
Ms. PAVANELLI called for a return to policies that recognize the value of both labour and workers.
Mr. DAPKIUNAS cautioned that specific States — such as middle-income countries — face specific problems, some of which are not currently addressed in international development plans.
Meanwhile, Mr. VILLARREAL said assessment and compliance schemes will be needed to ensure that all implemented policies and programmes actually achieve the goals they were put in place to achieve.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Netherlands, Morocco and Finland.
The representatives of the non-governmental organizations Baha’i International Community, Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and UNANIMA also participated.
* The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4863 of 7 February 2018.