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Sustainable Development Goals

Social protection for all to change people’s lives by 2030

As the international community gets ready to formally endorse the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the ILO’s Isabel Ortiz explains why social protection is a key component of the new global development agenda.

Comment | 21 September 2015
By Isabel Ortiz, head of the ILO’s Social Protection Department

Isabel Ortiz
Imagine a world where all older persons receive a pension; a world where all persons with severe disabilities receive benefits for a life in dignity. Imagine a world where all women receive maternity and child support so kids can eat, study and play; a world where there is support for those who are poor or without jobs. A world where no one is left behind. This is the world we want in 2030. A world with no poverty and fewer inequalities, a world with social protection for all.

This world is feasible. In recent years, there has been massive progress in developing social protection systems. Many developing countries have achieved universal or near-universal coverage – for all people. It is about continuing on this path.

New goals for a new world

The international community is rethinking its approach to development, and has drafted a new set of objectives for 2030, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This new agenda calls for efforts to not only combat different categories of poverty, but also to even up income distribution so that, as countries continue to develop, the benefits of growth can be enjoyed by all.

The SDGs propose to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems for all, including social protection floors as agreed by all countries in 2012, and endorsed by the United Nations and the G20.

The time is ripe

By establishing universal social protection systems, including social protection floors, countries can ensure that no one is left behind and that prosperity is shared. Social protection policies play a critical role in reducing poverty and inequality, and supporting inclusive growth – by boosting human capital supporting domestic demand and facilitating structural transformation of national economies.

The time is ripe. Today, India is richer than Germany was when it introduced social insurance for all workers in the 1880s; Indonesia is richer than the United States was when the US Social Security Act was passed in 1935; and China is now richer than Britain was in 1948, when the National Health Service was introduced. Historically, social protection systems were not developed out of a sense of charity. It is not about a few hand-outs to the most vulnerable. It is about comprehensive systems, strategically designed and implemented to: raise productivity by investing in the workforce and in children, the future labour force; and ensure national consumption by raising household income; and reduce political instability in addition to promoting peace and social cohesion.

Social protection works. This is why China has achieved nearly universal pensions in only four years, and many other developing countries have also developed pension systems for all: Bolivia, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Lesotho, Namibia, Thailand, Timor Leste and South Africa, among others. Many other governments are following, expanding the coverage of pensions for older persons, expanding disability and maternity benefits, and cash transfers for children.

Working together as one

The United Nations is ready for action. All around the world, social protection specialists from different UN agencies support governments to implement social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems. This is a two-step approach: (1) supporting governments to adopt national social protection strategies through national dialogue, and (2) supporting the design or reform of social protection schemes, the development of relevant legal frameworks, and the implementation of such schemes.

This is happening today in many developing countries. Working together as “One UN” with other partners will help meet the proposed Target 1.3 of the SDGs to “implement social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.” This joint effort will also help to fulfil other proposed sustainable development targets on reducing inequalities.

Are you ready? We are ready. Visit: socialprotection4all