GENEVA (ILO News) – Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet presided over the first meeting of the Social Protection Floor Advisory Group, held in Geneva on 11 and 12 August and convened by the ILO Director-General, Juan Somavia.
The social protection floor is a set of basic social security rights and transfers, as well as essential services in the area of employment, health, water and sanitation, nutrition, education and family-support, to protect and empower poor and vulnerable people to work out of poverty. These social policies must be combined in a coherent and integral life cycle approach and have a special focus on the most vulnerable groups of society, including women, children and youth.
Globally, four out of five persons in the working-age population have no access to adequate social protection, lacking access to social security, health and unemployment assistance. The economic crisis has impacted adversely these vulnerable populations both in developed and developing countries. Global unemployment has reached its highest level on record, and is expected to increase throughout 2010.
It is estimated that the combination of the economic and food crises has added around 98 million people to the population living on less than $2 a day in 2009. Young people have been particularly affected. By the end of 2009, of some 620 million economically active youth, 81 million – or 13 per cent – were unemployed. Today, young people are nearly three times more likely than adults to be unemployed - 24 per cent of the world’s working poor are young people, versus 18.1 per cent of total global employment.
During the two-day meeting, Ms. Bachelet engaged with prominent experts and policy-makers from an array of countries and backgrounds – the members of the Group – in discussions concerning the meaning of a Social Protection Floor; its main components; its political, economic and financial feasibility, as well as its institutional dimensions, fiscal space availability and overall sustainability in very diverse situations and according to different countries' circumstances and needs.
The Group also includes ILO Director-General, Mr. Juan Somavia, and Ms. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), who act as ex-officio members.
“No one can deny the crucial role that social protection measures have played during the current global economic crisis. They not only prevented millions of people from falling further into poverty by ensuring access to much needed social services, but also helped to reduce the likelihood of social unrest and made an important contribution to limiting the fall in aggregate demand, thus curtailing the potential depth of the recession”, said Ms. Bachelet.
“But social protection policies – and the goal of a social protection floor – will be even more important in the months and years ahead to tackle the enormous human cost that the economic crisis has left behind. It is now time to come together in an effective coalition and synergize our activities to make social protection a reality for all. The launch of this group is the first step forward”, Ms. Bachelet added.
Innovative experiences such as the Chilean social protection system, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, the Revenue de Solidarité Active (RSA) in France, and the Indian unfolding 100-day employment guarantee scheme, served as the basis for the discussion.
To fill the social protection gap and support countries to cope with the human toll of the crisis, the United Nations system, the IMF and the World Bank, under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, have agreed to jointly promote the implementation of a Social Protection Floor.
This is one of the nine joint initiatives adopted in April 2009 by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (UNCEB) to cope with the effects of the economic crisis. The Social Protection Floor Initiative is led by the ILO and WHO and involves a group of 17 other agencies.
The Group discussed ways to enhance policy coherence in social policies and recognized the importance of the Social Protection Floor as a key lever to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It was stressed that a Social Protection Floor is relevant and needed also for developed countries, and an important factor for the achievement of a fairer and sustainable globalization, in particular to combat poverty, empower people, reduce inequalities and build social inclusion.
“The launch of the Advisory Group comes at a critical time. The global financial and economic crisis has created greater vulnerabilities in terms of decent work, health, hunger and education which will have dramatic social effects unless decisive action is taken. It risks compromising progress towards internationally agreed development goals, including halving global poverty by 2015 and the other MDGs. It is the United Nations’ duty to protect those fundamental elements of social cohesion that make human development possible, but which are often the first to be discarded in a recession”, said ILO Director-General, Juan Somavia.
The Group also said that special attention should be given to women and the youth. "Young people are the drivers of economic development. Foregoing this potential is an economic waste and can undermine social stability”, Mr. Somavia declared, adding that “the impact of the crisis has not been gender neutral, with disproportionate burden placed on women in both developed and developing countries”.
The WHO, under the leadership of Ms. Chan, said that “ensuring universal access to health care is key. A comprehensive national health policy that is part of the broader developmental plan of countries can ensure complementarities between all elements needed to improve health outcomes and achieving the MDGs. The importance of the social protection floor is that it provides a framework so that these complementarities are there and that social protection reaches out to the most vulnerable”.
The Social Protection Floor Advisory Group will provide general guidance and catalyze policy coherence to the work in this area. It will also promote the exchange of experiences, capacity building and implementation of the social protection floor concept according to different socioeconomic and institutional contexts at the global, regional, national and local levels. The group will also collaborate in the identification of good practices around the world and contribute to catalyze exchanges and cooperation across countries, including South-South cooperation.
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The Social Protection Floor Advisory Group members are:
Mr. Aurelio Fernández Lopes, Chair of the European Union Social Protection Committee (since 2007); Ms. Eveline Herfkens, Founder of the MDGs campaign, Executive Coordinator for the MDGs Campaign (2002-2008), Minister of Development Cooperation of the Netherlands (1998-2002); Mr. Kemal Dervis, Vice-Chair of the Brookings Institution (since 2009), Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (2005-2009) and Minister for Economic Affairs of Turkey (2001-2002); Ms. Margaret Wilson, Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Waikato (New Zealand), Member and spokesperson of the New Zealand House of Representatives (2005-2008), Minister of Labour (1999-2005); Mr. Martin Hirsch, former High Commissioner for Active Solidarities against Poverty and for Young People of France (since 2007), former head of Emmaüs; Ms. Sudha Pillai, Secretary of the Planning Commission of India (since 2007),former Secretary of Labour and Employment, and Mr. Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Economic Development of South Africa, former spokesperson of the Workers Group in the Governing Body of the ILO.