ILO-UNITAR training

Social protection not a cost, but an investment

The second ILO-UNITAR training on advancing social protection floors addressed the challenges in financing social protection.

News | 29 May 2013
"Social protection is not a cost. It’s just as much an investment as building a new bridge or road."
(E. Harris, IMF)

© UN Photo/Albert GonzlberGonzález Farran 2013
Extending access to social security, health, and other essential services to underserved populations is the cornerstone of any national social protection floor. But to fund these efforts in times of austerity will require policymakers to overcome several stumbling blocks.

On Tuesday in New York, participants from national delegations to the UN, international organizations, development agencies and civil society organizations, gathered at the Finnish Mission to the UN to discuss the challenges faced in securing the necessary financing for social protection floors. It was the second session in the three-part training on advancing social protection floors, co-organized by the International Labour Organization and the UN Institute for Training and Research.

"Implementation of social protection floors is much more a question of political will than of budgetary constraints," said the Deputy Director of the ILO’s Office for the United Nations in New York, Vinicius Pinheiro, as he opened the session. "In the long run social protection pays for itself given its impacts on aggregate demand, human development and productivity.  All these impacts will be converted into more tax revenues in the future."  Pinheiro also presented on linkages between social protection and rural development.

Echoing his remarks was the first presenter, Isabel Ortiz, Director of the Global Justice Program at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, who presented the evolution of public expenditure in many countries leading up to and following the 2008 financial crisis and its effects on inequality.  She said that there was a popular perception that austerity was taking place primarily in Europe, but that middle and low-income countries contracted public expenditures in even more significant ways.

"Fiscal space exists virtually everywhere,” Ortiz said. "However, we need to redefine macroeconomic priorities away from figures and indicators and more towards people."

Also presenting was Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, to discuss the Global Fund for Social Protection.  He said that LDCs, in particular, may need support in order to establish standing rights-based social protection systems that would allow those previously denied benefits to claim their rights. The Global Fund, as conceived in a Briefing Note of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, could serve to close the funding shortfall and provide technical assistance and capacity building in developing social protection floors where they are most needed.

In his presentation to the group, Elliott Harris, Assistant Director for Strategy, Policy and Review Department at the IMF stated, "Social protection is not a cost.  It’s just as much an investment as building a new bridge or road."  He emphasized that financing sources for social protection should be reliable and predictable and that the most desirable and sustainable financing option available for social protection is through domestic resources.

Providing the gender perspective on social protection floors was Jean D’Cunha, Global Advisor Employment and Migration for UN Women. She spoke about the empowerment of women through cash transfer schemes provided to primary caregivers or to mothers for child care and family welfare with extensive coverage.

The third and final joint training on advancing social protection floors will take place in New York in Fall of 2013.