Rising Inequality, Exclusion Still Threaten Global Well-Being despite Impressive Gains in Poverty Reduction, Speakers Tell Social Development Commission

SOC/4885
11 February 2020
4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)

Rising Inequality, Exclusion Still Threaten Global Well-Being despite Impressive Gains in Poverty Reduction, Speakers Tell Social Development Commission

Despite development strides which have lifted more than 1 billion people out of poverty in recent decades, soaring inequality and exclusion continue to pose challenges around the globe, delegates heard today, as the Commission on Social Development continued its fifty-eighth session.

Rising inequality was one several themes emerging from a ministerial-level forum, convened this morning, during which panellists explored a range of issues that have gained prominence since the landmark 1995 World Summit on Social Development.  During an interactive question-and-answer session with the panellists, several speakers pointed out that the Summit marked the first time that social outcomes — rather than purely economic ones — were prioritized on the world stage.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said in opening remarks that while countries have boosted school enrolment, reduced child and maternal mortality and improved the delivery of basic services, “we have not yet confined poverty to the history books”.  Decent work remains a distant dream for many, and high and rising inequality threatens social cohesion in both developing and developed countries.  Noting that inequality is particularly prevalent in access to education and health care and is often based on gender, race, ethnicity, urban or rural residence, he said:  “This often leads to a concentration of wealth and political influence among those who are already at the top of the income scale.”  Indeed, he said, there is a widespread perception that the current socioeconomic system “is not working for everyone”.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), President of the General Assembly, said in a video message that inequality continues to be a major barrier preventing many people from achieving their potential and living decent lives.  He pointed out that about two thirds of the world’s population resides in countries where the rate of inequality is on the rise.  Citing several major mega-trends now prevalent around the world, he spotlighted technological innovation, climate change and international migration, noting that if addressed appropriately those challenges could be harnessed to deliver sustainable development and improve people’s lives. 

The five ministerial-level panellists echoed many of those sentiments, while sharing best practices from their respective countries.  While each agreed that inequality poses a major threat, they presented a variety of solutions ranging from improved labour policies to cash transfers to interventions related to the Commission’s 2020 priority theme — affordable housing and homelessness.

Ariela Luna, Minister of Development and Social Inclusion of Peru, said her country recently decided to prioritize early childhood services in all its plans and policies.  “Inequality begins in childhood,” she said, noting that young children’s brains make up to 700 million new neural connections per second.  “What is at stake is not only the future of the child herself, but the future of the country,” she said.  Emphasizing that there is no greater investment a Government can make than improving the lives of young people, she added that social services should be adapted to children, “and not the other way around”. 

Hawa Koomson, Minister for Special Development Initiatives of Ghana, spotlighted the need to support low-income countries, which often lag in implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals due to weak institutions or challenges in mobilizing resources.  Noting that Ghana reduced its poverty level from 28.5 per cent in 2002-2003 to 24.2 per cent in 2012-2013 and halved its extreme poverty rate during the same period, she pointed to a range of successful initiatives.  Those included planting support to 1.1 million farmers; a flagship cash transfer programme with thousands of beneficiaries; the provision of nutritious meals to more than 2 million school children; the introduction of free and compulsory basic and high school level education; and a new credible mortgage scheme to help Ghanaians more easily afford housing. 

Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, recalled that decades ago many countries embraced a “trickle-down model” of growth and development, believing that it would eventually improve the lives of middle-class and poor people.  Noting that Finland never embraced such a model — and has been ranked the happiest country in the world for several years — she said Finnish people are happy to pay higher taxes if the result is strong, well-functioning social support.  Emphasizing that globalization must be fair and benefit everyone, she drew attention to such campaigns as “Together to Achieve Universal Social Protection by 2030” and expressed hope that more Governments will sign onto them.

Also serving as panellists during the Ministerial Forum were Ghanem Mubarak al Kuwari, Assistant Undersecretary for Social Affairs of Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, and Yulia Sokolovska, Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine.  It was moderated by Louise Casey, Chair of the Institute of Global Homelessness.

In the afternoon, the Commission continued its general debate.  Speaking during that segment were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Speaking during that segment were representatives of Honduras (on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons), Thailand, Honduras, Philippines, Turkmenistan, Mongolia, Brazil, Botswana, Canada, Sudan, Switzerland, Qatar, Germany, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Denmark, Kenya, Indonesia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Slovenia, France and Austria.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 February, to hold a multi-stakeholder forum on affordable housing, social protection systems and efforts to address homelessness.

Ministerial Forum

This morning, the Commission for Social Development held an interactive Ministerial Forum on the theme “Twenty-five years of the World Summit for Social Development:  Addressing emerging societal challenges to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda”.  Moderated by Louise Casey, Chair of the Institute of Global Homelessness, it featured presentations by Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland; Hawa Koomson, Minister for Special Development Initiatives of Ghana; Ariela Luna, Minister for Development and Social Inclusion of Peru; Ghanem Mubarak al Kuwari, Assistant Undersecretary for Social Affairs, Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar; and Yulia Sokolovska, Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine.

Delivering opening statements were Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Mexico), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, and Tijjani Muhammad‑Bande (Nigeria), President of the General Assembly.  Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivered a keynote address.

Mr. MUHAMMAD-BANDE, in a video message to the Commission, said that the 1995 World Summit on Social Development led to a new international consensus, as laid out in the Copenhagen Declaration.  “It is about the opportunity of people to achieve their full potential,” he said, adding that the Declaration is respectful of human diversity and inclusive of all.  While significant development progress has been made in recent decades, much remains to be done.  Inequality continues to be a major barrier preventing many people from achieving their potential and living decent lives, with about two thirds of the world’s population residing in countries where the rate of inequality is on the rise.  Citing several major mega-trends now prevalent around the world, he spotlighted technological innovation, climate change and international migration, noting that — if addressed appropriately — those challenges could in fact be harnessed to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  At the international level, he emphasized that “we must make the United Nations relevant to all people and restore confidence in multilateralism”.  The Commission itself has a major role to play in finding solutions to the challenges of our time. 

Mr. LIU outlined significant global development strides made since the 1995 World Summit in Copenhagen, pointing out that more than a billion people have since been lifted out of poverty.  More girls are in school now than ever before, as a result of increases in enrolment and a narrowing gender gap in education.  Child and maternal mortality have dropped, and life expectancy has increased, while progress has been made towards achieving universal health care, education and the delivery of services such as clean water and sanitation.  “However, we have not yet confined poverty to the history books,” he said, adding: “Decent work remains a distant dream for many, and high and rising inequalities are threatening social cohesion.”  As the international community embarks on the Third Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, hundreds of millions — especially in Africa and South Asia — continue to live in poverty.  Pockets of poverty also exist in middle- and high-income countries, and in 2017 extreme poverty remained widespread, impacting more than 300 million workers in emerging and developing countries around the globe.

Turning to the critical challenge of rising inequality, he said that it is particularly prevalent in access to education and health care — and is often based on gender, race, ethnicity, urban or rural residence, disability status or migration.  “This often leads to a concentration of wealth and political influence among those who are already at the top of the income scale,” he said.  There is a widespread perception that the current socioeconomic system is not working for everyone.  In many countries, wages have remained stagnant and institutions have been unable to address the structural causes of inequality.  Meanwhile, the world’s demographic makeup is changing, with a population projected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050.  Such growth will put pressure on food supplies, housing and access to other resources, including water.  Populations in many countries are ageing, while in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America the working age population is growing faster than other segments. 

“The world is in its fourth industrial revolution,” he continued, noting that technological changes such as the dawn of artificial intelligence and automation could have profound consequences for workers in many sectors.  New technologies and a shifting organization of work have become fixtures, and in order to keep up with demand for higher-level skills workers cannot rely exclusively on formal education.  While there is no solid evidence to date that recent technological advances are leading to massive increases in joblessness, many jobs today lack the benefits and stability of traditional employment, putting more pressure on labour.  Outlining the significant challenges posed by the impacts of climate change and natural disasters — “an existential threat to life on earth” — he said that small farmers, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and rural coastal populations are most at risk.  Urgent action is needed, including the curbing of carbon emissions.  Countries can also harness technological innovations to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, he said.

Ms. CASEY said that world leaders gathered at the 1995 World Summit pledged to put people at the centre of development.  “Those principles guide the Commission on Social Development to this day,” she said, noting that despite progress made around the globe, the body continues to push forward efforts to increase inclusion and fully eradicate poverty. 

Ms. KOOMSON underlined the need to support low-income countries, which often lag behind in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals due to weak institutions or resource mobilization mechanisms.  Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African countries to integrate the Goals into its development framework and it reduced its poverty level — from 28.5 per cent in 2002-2003 to 24.2 per cent in 2012-2013 — and halving extreme poverty during the same period.  Cautious assessments of the last 25 years demonstrate the success of the Government’s various interventions, which include:  planting support to 1.1 million farmers; a flagship cash transfer programme with thousands of beneficiaries; the provision of nutritious meals to more than 2 million school children, made with locally grown foodstuffs; the introduction of free and compulsory basic and high school level education; and a new credible mortgage scheme to help Ghanaians more easily afford housing.  Noting that many development challenges remain, she said that if Ghana is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 it will need more strategic and innovative interventions as well as more formidable partnerships.

Ms. LUNA, recalling that Peru recently decided to prioritize early childhood services in all its plans and policies, declared:  “Inequality begins in childhood.”  Not only are children full-fledged citizens with all the same rights as others, but their brains are busy making up to 700 million new neural connections per second.  “What is at stake is not only the future of the child herself, but the future of the country,” she said, stressing that there is no greater investment a Government can make than improving the lives of young people.  Beginning in 2018, Peru began basing all its laws and budgeting on scientific evidence with a focus on early childhood development.  Ensuring that children are happy, autonomous and fully in-tune with their environments is crucial, she said, noting that Peru’s package of cross-cutting policies aims to identify and register all children; improve child health and avoid premature births; provide safe drinking water and vaccinations; facilitate school enrolment; and enable caretakers to provide children with love, time and support.  “We must see children as the outcomes,” she said, adding that social services should be adapted to children “and not the other way around”.

Ms. PEKONEN said the landmark 1995 World Summit was the first time countries considered social development — and not just economic growth — in their decision making.  Many at that time believed in a “trickle-down model” of growth and development.  Noting that Finland never embraced such a model, she said it has now been ranked the happiest country in the world for several years.  Finnish people are comfortable with paying higher taxes if the result is strong, well-functioning social support.  While the world at large has seen many development strides, progress has been uneven and emerging demographic trends, digitalization, a climate crisis and multipolarity now pose new challenges.  “We must ensure that the social dimension is fully integrated into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda,” she said, stressing that globalization must be fair and benefit everyone.  Underlining the importance of strong social protection schemes, she cited the campaign known as “Together to Achieve Universal Social Protection by 2030” and expressed hope that more Governments will sign onto it.  Finland has also embraced another approach, the “Economics of Well-being”, which underlines the mutually re-enforcing nature of human well-being and economic development, she said.

Ms. SOKOLOVSKA said that Ukraine has Europe’s youngest Government, with an average age of 39.  However, the country’s overall population is ageing, and it faces a range of challenges including poverty and youth unemployment.  The Ministry of Social Policy is working to ensure that people with disabilities, children and older people receive adequate support.  Ukraine has also improved its human rights strategy, which is based on the principles of anti-discrimination, providing access to social services and reducing rates of social exclusion.  To tackle unemployment, more than 35,000 people under 35 received vocational skills training in 2018.  “Baby boxes” now provide high-quality products to all newborn children, and a “municipal nanny programme” reimburses families for childcare costs.  Pension plans have also been reformed, with the average pension payment increasing significantly.  As Ukraine is increasingly focusing on digitization, it now uses electronic employment record books and allows pension beneficiaries to access their funds online.  In addition, the country has reduced its gender wage gap by 6 per cent in recent years and the percentage of women’s participation in Government increased from 3.5 per cent in 1991 to 20.5 per cent in 2020.

Mr. AL KUWARI, sharing Qatar’s experience with social development since the 1995 World Summit, said that the country has undertaken efforts in health, education, poverty, working conditions and other areas covered by the Copenhagen Declaration.  Living standards have improved and the foundation has been laid for a solid social protection scheme.  High quality education has also helped Qatar achieve significant development strides in recent years.  Turning to labour, he said that the Government strives to ensure decent working conditions for all and puts the rights of migrant workers at the centre of its policies.  Great progress has been made in improving social integration, with special interventions to protect the rights of women, older people and those with disabilities.  Qatar’s National Vision 2030 aims to develop a progressive, practical strategy to overcome its remaining challenges.  Among its priorities are diversifying the national economy, strengthening the private sector, improving human development, facilitating broader access to quality education, strengthening partnerships with regional organizations and protecting natural resources, he said.

In the ensuing dialogue between panellists and delegates, the representative of Switzerland suggested that the Commission, among other things, favour more interactive dialogues, encourage more delegations to include youth representatives, and give thought to reducing the duration of its sessions.  The delegate for the European Union asked how, in the framework of the Decade of Action, the social dimension of sustainable development can be strengthened in an integrated way.

The representative of Nigeria asked about strategies for children and women with disabilities.  The representative of Soroptimist International said changing political climates are undermining the fragile progress made in the area of women and girls’ rights.  The speaker for Chile, emphasizing that challenges can bring opportunities, said his country is taking decisive national action on sustainable development with essential multilateral support.

The representative of Venezuela, noting that his country is enduring “illegal economic attack”, said high-level political will is a key factor that must be expressed not only in words, but also in pragmatic deeds.  The representative of the New Future Foundation wondered about the role that women will be playing by 2030.

The representative of Baha’i International asked what needs to take place in the short and medium term to ensure that the common identity of humanity becomes the central organizing principle for promoting social development.  The representative of the International Association of Schools of Social Work asked the panellists to discuss how the promotion of partnerships between Government and civil society is being carried out on the ground.

Ms. PEKONEN said that the Government of Finland has integrated sustainable development into the State budget and that it will continue to do so.  “When finance ministers are on board, we will start seeing real change happening,” she said.

Ms. LUNA said there is no doubt that improved outcomes in towns and villages are the result not only of central Government initiatives, but also cooperation with civil society and society at large.

Mr. AL KUWARI underscored the importance of defining roles and responsibilities, as well as the link between strategies and budgets.  Funding must be continuous, alongside accountability and transparency, he said.

Ms. SOKOLOVSKA said that support for children in inclusive education is something which Ukraine is working on now.  She also noted the Government’s cooperation with non-governmental organizations in various sectors, which get support from the State budget while also creating employment opportunities.

Ms. PEKONEN emphasized that improved social protection pays back and that the international community has a responsibility to ensure that globalization is fair and creates opportunities for everyone.

Ms. CASEY said that it was heartening to see participants giving thought to the elderly, the homeless, persons with disability and the central role of women.  She also urged Member States to be vigilant in the coming decade and ensure that no one is left behind.

General Discussion

DORIS MAYELL MENDOZA PASTOR (Honduras), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that the eradication of poverty as an ethical imperative — as it was presented in Copenhagen in 1995 — represents a unique international consensus.  The percentage of older persons in the global population is projected to grow from 46 per cent between 2017 and 2030, outnumbering other groups, she said, calling for age-sensitive policies that address the human rights challenges of poverty, homelessness, unaffordable medicine, income insecurity and others faced by older people on a daily basis.  Older persons face specific housing challenges, as they may suffer financial abuse or land-grabbing and have higher rates of functional disabilities.  Underlining the particular vulnerability of older women, she called for a gender perspective focused on their specific needs to be integrated into all social policies.  Legislative measures are also needed to protect their rights and enable their full and equal participation in decision-making.  “This is key for achieving success in the 2030 Agenda,” as well as the goals enshrined in the 2002 Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, she said, pointing out that both strategies seek to leave no one behind.

PORAMETEE VIMOLSIRI (Thailand), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that his country is working closely with the latter to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and bring the outbreak under control as soon as possible.  Turning to the theme of housing, he said home ownership rates in Thailand are 73 per cent — among the highest in the world.  The Government is focused on reducing slums and squatter settlements, while improving environmental sustainability and connectivity.  To date, it has provided $623 million in preferential housing loans to low-income families.  In addition, social bonds have been introduced to help boost funding, and since 2003, a Secure Housing Programme has targeted the country’s poorest citizens.  That bottom-up approach provides housing subsidies and loans, working hand-in-hand with urban planners and non-governmental experts to build and provide new homes and make current homes more liveable.  Each slum community collectively plans and carries out its own revitalization efforts, with local cooperatives leading the way.  With regard to social protection, he said Thailand’s social schemes provide emergency support, services and shelter, as well as universal health care.  Child support grants to low-income families have also been increased, he said.

Ms. MENDOZA PASTOR (Honduras), speaking in her national capacity, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that after years of uncoordinated national policies, the current Government is focusing on employment and improved living conditions through innovation, access to credit, education and health, security and defense, and honesty and transparency, among other things.  The recently reformulated Honduras multidimensional poverty index covers health, food, education, social security, employment, public and basic services and housing, with the last category a national priority.  Inclusion is a moral imperative to ensure social justice for all without distinction, she stressed, adding that the Government hopes its legacy will be a strong foundation for promoting social housing through laws, norms and sustainable instruments, based on the principle of human dignity and non-discrimination.

ADORACION M. NAVARRO (Philippines) said that her country’s goal, through its economic development plans, aims to eradicate poverty by 2040.  In that regard, its “Magna Carta of the Poor”, signed into law in April 2019, requires Government agencies to meet the rights of the poor to adequate food and housing, decent work, quality education and the highest attainable standard of health.  Strategies to make housing more affordable for low-income groups include innovative financing modalities and strengthening the primary and secondary mortgage markets.  Emphasizing the ways in which natural disasters and conflict can aggravate homelessness, she said the Philippines is updating its national disaster risk reduction and management plan, which features post-disaster housing as a significant component.  She went on to express her country’s full support to China’s commitment to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, emphasizing the connection between sustainable development and global action to tackle health-related risks.

HALBIBI TACHJANOVA, Vice-Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Turkmenistan, said that the Government is launching a range of national and regional programmes to improve human living conditions.  Outlining its strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, she said their targets and indicators have been integrated into the national development plan.  Moreover, given environmental challenges and the global drop in oil prices, Turkmenistan has introduced a model of innovative industrial innovative development — based on the optimal use of natural resources — and is working to develop its human capital.  The country consistently seeks to improve and defend the human rights of its citizens, she said, noting that it recently enacted a decree to combat human trafficking, implemented a national gender strategy aimed at ensuring that women enjoy the same rights as men and put in place specific policies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.  The country’s various economic sectors are being developed in line with the most modern technological innovations, she added.

SANJAA MUNGUNCHIMEG, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, associating herself with the Group of 77, noted that her country saw a dramatic increase in poverty as well as rural to urban migration following its transition to a market economy.  Those shifts led to high unemployment and an increase in homelessness, she said, outlining the Government’s significant efforts to respond to those challenges in the last 25 years.  Among those, she spotlighted its Sustainable Vision 2030 policy, its Law on Protection and Development of the Elderly, its State Policy on Population and its National Strategy on Ageing.  In addition, Mongolia implemented a national rental house programme and put in place a social security system in 1995.  The Government provides 72 different types of social services, including pensions, benefits, assistance, services and supplements for target population groups.  Noting that those policies have resulted in significant improvements, she said the Government is now developing a long-term strategic document — known as Mongolia Vision 2050 — which will comprehensively reflect current and emerging challenges.

TATIANA BARBOSA DE ALVARENGA (Brazil) said that her country’s Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights has a raft of policies, programmes, plans and projects geared towards the homeless population.  Some successful international experiences demonstrate that it is possible to exit homelessness with dignity, rights and increasing degrees of autonomy.  For Brazil, it is understood that housing is a right, that work is the only way to ensure social and economic inclusion, and that economic viability is guaranteed by more efficient services that cost less.

MPHO ROSTAH MORAPEDI (Botswana) said that like other developing countries, Botswana faces an acute housing shortage, particularly for low-income urban families.  Its housing problems are the result of economic, demographic and social changes since independence in 1966, including urbanization.  In response, the Government adopted a multisectoral approach, including a scheme that enabled public housing tenants to buy their own homes over time.  In remote areas, a Government development programme addressing such issues as land access has led to the completion of 1,794 housing units.  Through another initiative launched in 2010, housing is provided by the private sector, individuals, communities, members of the public, civil society and public officers through their respective departments, he said.

Ms. BLANCHARD (Canada) said that the Commission’s current session is particularly important and offers a good chance to take stock of strides made to date.  Noting that no one can have a real chance at success without good health, strong communities, good jobs, quality education and safe and affordable housing, she said that in 2016 close to 1.7 million Canadian households were in a condition of “core housing need”.  For that reason, the Government launched its first-ever National Housing Strategy in 2017, an ambitious $55 billion plan that lays out specific targets and prioritizes the most vulnerable.  Turning to the challenge of homelessness, she said the country’s new homelessness strategy, known as “Reaching Home”, invests $2.2 billion over 10 years to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent by 2027-2028.  “Access to affordable housing, tackling homelessness and reducing poverty are interlinked,” she said, outlining Canada’s poverty reduction plan which aims to reduce poverty by half by 2030.  Such approaches will continue to guide the way in which Canada seeks to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, both at home and abroad, she said.

Mr. SALIH ELSHABIK (Sudan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that his country is now welcoming a new era of peace following decades of injustice.  Young people and women participated in unprecedented numbers in the 2019 revolution, he said, noting that the latter culminated in the drafting of a new constitution which enshrines the human rights of all people.  “This participation and action led to light being shed on the causes of the revolution,” he said, underlining the importance of providing people with adequate social services, housing, political inclusion and the realization of their rights.  Recalling that Sudan has suffered homelessness since the onset of a drought in the 1970s, he said that the Transitional Government is now working to offer a decent life to the estimated 15,000 men, women and children who still lack shelter.  Calling for “radical solutions”, he outlined several initiatives that should be carried out by the Transitional Government with international support.

Ms. BIRCHER (Switzerland) said that the housing needs of her country’s people are mostly met, but low-income households are more likely to be confined to poor-quality homes.  And accessing the housing market is difficult for people who have fallen into debt, immigrants and those dependent on social assistance.  Between 1996 and 2018, Switzerland experienced the highest increase in housing costs among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.  Finding housing is primarily the responsibility of the individual, but the Federal Constitution provides for all citizens to have access to decent housing.  In short, the federal Government works to prevent homelessness through the promotion of affordable housing and other measures.  Private actors also play an important role by providing the homeless with emergency shelters, meals, employment and other kinds of assistance.

Mr. AL-KUWARI (Qatar) said that his country seeks to provide adequate and decent housing for all through such policies as a loan-based housing scheme as well as social housing for those covered by the social protection umbrella.  Through a ministerial decree, the Government has defined the parameters for decent housing for expatriate workers, he said, adding that more residential areas for such workers are under construction.  A key objective of Qatar’s demographic policy for 2017-2022 is to strike a balance between population growth and sustainable development requirements to ensure a decent life for the population, expand their choices and elevate their participation in society while also protecting and promoting the rights of women, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  He also drew attention to the Doha Declaration on disability and development, adopted in December 2019, that aims at supporting international efforts on the issue.

Mr. KAMPERHOFF (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, said that a profound legal framework and legal basis is a helpful regulatory prerequisite in the field of affordable housing and social protection systems to address homelessness.  In Germany, the need for affordable housing has grown tremendously, and in 2018, the Government — in coordination with the federal states and municipalities — allocated €128 billion for social housing construction through 2021, support for low-income families and individuals, and tax incentives to build new houses.

Ms. HEBLING and Mr. KARANIKOLAS, youth delegates from Germany, encouraged the Commission to address homelessness by tackling the roots of the problem, which include conflict, climate change and exploitation.  Social protection policies must be developed for migrants and refugees, one of the delegates said, emphasizing that it is unacceptable for such persons to remain in shelters.  Companies that destroy the environment must be punished, while children who are born poor and exploited as cheap labour must be given the opportunity to go to school and have a good life.  “Do not just say how great your country is; instead, propose ideas about how we can make the world more equal,” she said.

Ms. ROLON (Paraguay), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that ensuring universal access to safe and affordable housing is a crucial issue in her country.  “This was a challenge that forced us to be creative,” she said, outlining the revamping of the Government’s Ministry of Urbanization, Housing and Habitat.  Among the solutions identified is a plan to build 2,500 new houses in key river basin areas, where residents are regularly displaced by cyclical flooding.  Efforts are also under way to support the poorest families.  While extreme poverty has been reduced in recent years, the Government continues to work to eradicate social exclusion, with a focus on the entire human life cycle.  Among other things, the Sustainable Development Commission aims to institutionalize cooperation between the Government and the private sector, including in their efforts to eradicate homelessness and poverty.

Mr. CORPORAN (Dominican Republic), outlining his country’s various sustainable development strides, said that it has instituted a paradigm change in its policies for persons with disabilities.  Along those lines, it has also strengthened the promotion of accessible tourism at the regional level and is concluding work on a sign language dictionary.  In March, Paraguay will present its evaluation and certification of disabilities, which is in line with international standards.  Turning to assistance provided to older adults, he said those programmes seek to ensure adequate living standards and promote the right to land titles.  For the first time in the country’s history, children up to age 12 from the most disadvantaged groups have the chance to be treated with the most modern medical technology.  Solidarity pensions for persons with disabilities have been introduced and the country has enacted a national youth plan and a national human rights plan, he added.

FARMAN GURBANLI (Azerbaijan) said that improving affordable housing requires strengthened national social protection policies as well as long-term solutions and partnerships between Governments and non-State actors.  In Azerbaijan, a Mortgage and Credit Guarantee Fund was established in 2005 and has since lent funds for over 30,000 mortgages — amounting to more than $820 million.  The country created a State Housing Development Agency, aimed at managing the construction of rental buildings that meet ecological and energy efficiency standards and provide affordable housing.  Outlining the Strategic Roadmap for the Development of Affordable Housing Provision, he said that it aims to identify favourable land plots, increase the number of beneficiaries of the affordable housing fund and ensure the efficiency of the mortgage market.  In addition to State funding, it seeks to attract private sector construction partners through a public-private partnership model.  Another priority is improving the living conditions of internally displaced persons, he said, reporting that to date the housing conditions of some 300,000 refugees and displaced persons have been upgraded.

Ms. BENEDA (Hungary) said that for his Government, one of best ways to eradicate poverty is to support families and child-raising.  To that end, 4.6 per cent of Hungary’s gross domestic product (GDP) goes towards supporting families, including subsidies for households with three or more children.  Overall, since the programme’s introduction in 2015, some 125,000 households have received family home-start subsidies worth a total of $1.3 billion.  The Government also puts strong emphasis on helping families with housing loans, enabling them to reduce their mortgages.  Turning to education, he said that 110 sure-start facilities for young children have been established throughout Hungary, operating with Government and European Union support.

MIE HENRIETTE ERIKSEN (Denmark), associating herself with the European Union, said that for almost 10 years, successive Governments have sought to know more about the scope and scale of homelessness, including through a biannual survey that provides an important overview of the phenomenon’s development and geographic distribution.  The most recent survey indicated that mental illness is the main cause of 41 per cent of homelessness and drug abuse 33 per cent.  It also revealed, for the first time since 2009, a stagnation in the number of homeless people in Denmark, although the number of homeless among the elderly and in rural municipalities is rising.  Going forward, the Government wants to intensify its efforts through a greater focus on the different life circumstances that underpin homelessness as well as the lack of housing opportunities in bigger cities.

Ms. MAROKO (Kenya), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that the Government invests directly in the three pillars of its protection scheme — namely, social security, health insurance and social assistance.  Through the latter, more than 1.4 million poor and vulnerable households are provided with a bi-monthly stipend aimed at improving their nutrition as well as access to clothing, shelter and medical services.  Describing Kenya’s four main national agendas — an affordable housing plan, a scheme to enhance food and nutrition security, a programme to enhance manufacturing and the provision of universal health coverage — she said that they aim to construct 500,000 housing units by 2022 and ensure nutritious food, water, sanitation and education.  A Government department has been created to oversee social protection and assistance, as well as to oversee Kenya’s cash transfer programme.  She also noted that the country is home to some 500,000 refugees who require decent housing and amenities.

Mr. TARUC (Indonesia), associating himself with Group of 77, ASEAN and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that like many others around the world his country is experiencing a range of complex urban challenges.  Among other things, he said, its National Long-Term Vision 2045 is aimed at sustainable urbanization.  Its 2011 housing law includes a specific reference to housing support for the poor as well as vulnerable and marginalized groups.  “We need to think outside the box” if countries want to close gaps between the current wave of rapid urbanization and the availability of housing stock, he said.  Describing Indonesia’s Housing Finance Liquidity Facility, he said that the housing development fund works on the supply side of the market to provide mortgages below commercial market rates.  Noting that efforts are under way to integrate the issue of homelessness into that fund, he said that employment training and other amenities will also be included.

ERICA MAGANGA, Secretary for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare of Malawi, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that housing is crucial for countries striving to build an inclusive society and reduce inequalities.  In Malawi, four out of every five families live in rural areas in substandard homes with grass-thatched roofs, which require frequent repairs, and mud floors that attract insects and put their residents at risk of disease.  Malawi also has one of the highest rural-to-urban migration rates in Africa, she said, noting that 76 per cent of the population of the capital city, Lilongwe, lived in sub-standard housing or informal settlements in 2015.  Malawi is committed to providing affordable housing to all part of its social protection system, and to eradicating homelessness.  The Goal of upgrading slums and providing slum-dwellers with basic services — as laid out in Sustainable Development Goal 11 — is enshrined in Malawi’s National Housing Policy.

NNAMDI OKECHUKWU NZE (Nigeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that as the country’s population grows, with a corresponding rural-to-urban drive, the Government has over several decades come up with evidence-based and statistically informed policies to address the challenges of affordable housing.  However, for such policies to be meaningful, they must be sufficiently robust to include the underprivileged and the vulnerable.  In that regard, Nigeria’s national policy on ageing features a significant affordable housing component.  During the last quarter of 2019, the Government has trained more than 400 older persons to produce soap, bread, insecticides and disinfectants.  At the conclusion of training, each participant received start-up capital to turn their newfound skills into businesses.  Through the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry, the Government is also facilitating easy access to low-interest credit for mobility aids and other assistive devices for persons with disabilities.

MZOLISI TONI (South Africa) discussed the Government’s lifecycle approach to social protection interventions, including social grants, free basic education, clean water, electricity and free low-cost housing.  Such measures account for 60 per cent of Government spending.  He added that the Government’s human settlements policy, known as Breaking New Ground, aims to integrate communities which, during the Apartheid era, were systematically segregated along class and racial lines.  Efforts now are being put into building more special homes for persons with disabilities, as well as foster homes, shelters for victims of gender-based violence and special centres for the frail and the elderly.  The Government is also working tireless on an integrated social protection information system that will help determine the extent to which eligible persons are benefiting from social services, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Ms. VEHOVAR (Slovenia) said that her country has an estimated 3,600 visible and 3,000 hidden homeless people.  Social protection services are provided by both the Government and local communities.  In 2019, the State co-financed 19 social security programmes for homeless people, which provided housing support, fieldwork, day centres, counselling and psychosocial support and assistance.  In the coming years, Slovenia plans to enhance housing support for homeless people, as well as strengthen activities to increase employment opportunities that would enable homeless people to reintegrate into the labour market.  By 2050, older persons will account for about 30 per cent of the population.  Therefore, securing adequate housing and care should be a Government priority, she added.

Mr. SZCRUPAK (France) said that his delegation supports the conclusions of the Secretary-General’s report on homelessness.  The fight against homelessness should also address inequality and poverty.  In November 2018, the European Union adopted 19 principles, including one regarding social inclusion of the homeless.  France has an estimated 140,000 homeless people.  The State has provided accommodations for the homeless in cooperation with charitable organizations.  France also adopted a “Housing First” policy in 2011, an idea derived from discussions in the Commission.  However, housing alone is not enough to address the issue of homelessness.  Psychosocial support is needed, as well, he said.

Mr. SCHALLER (Austria) said that the issue of affordable housing has increasingly become a sociopolitical challenge in recent years.  In 2018, there were approximately 23,000 people registered as homeless in his country.  The Government has rolled out extensive services to fight homelessness, including by developing facilities to prevent evictions or providing rapid assistance in cases where one’s home has been lost despite preventive measures.  The second National Action Plan on Disability, covering the period from 2022 to 2030, aims to enhance inclusion both at work and in everyday life.  Austria fully endorses the terms of the World Health Organization (WHO) “Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020-2030”.

For information media. Not an official record.