The webinar ‘Promoting inclusion through social protection: Results from the UN Report on the World Social Situation 2018’ took place on 11 October 2018. The webinar presented the main findings of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA): ‘Report on the World Social Situation 2018: Promoting inclusion through social protection’.
The publication highlights the importance of universal access to social protection in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, access to social protection is extremely uneven – not only between countries, but also between groups and individuals – challenging the efficacy of social protection in promoting inclusion and resilience, and ultimately reaching the goal of leaving no one behind.
The event, organised by DESA, was moderated by Simone Cecchini (Senior Social Affairs Officer, Social Development Division, UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbea/ECLAC), who was joined by presenter Marta Roig (Chief, Emerging Issues and Trends in Development Section, Division for Inclusive Social Development, DESA), and discussant, Stephen Kidd (Senior Social Policy Specialist, Development Pathways).
Watch the recording, check out the webinar presentation, and read the ‘Report on the World Social Situation 2018: Promoting inclusion through social protection’.
The impact of social protection in promoting the inclusion of all
Marta Roig kicked off the webinar by framing the UNDESA publication within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focusing specifically on two SDG targets:
- SDG 1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable;
- SDG 10.2: By 2030 empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.
People living in poverty, however, are not a fixed set of the population. Rather, both poverty and vulnerability are conditions that anyone is at risk of experiencing at some point in their lives. At the same time, target 10.2 calls attention to some characteristics that increase the risk of exclusion, and therefore, the risk of poverty and vulnerability.
The 2030 Agenda explicitly recognises the role of social protection in reducing poverty. One estimate indicates that the number of people living in poverty would be 136 to 165 million higher without social protection transfers. Additionally, social protection moves beyond the eradication of poverty, also playing a role in:
- SDG 3.8, on promoting universal health coverage;
- SDG 4, advocating for quality education, given that studies indicate that school enrolment and attendance is higher among children who benefit from social protection; and
- SDG 5.4, which recognises unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of social protection.
Social protection also has an impact in reducing inequalities, being more effective in countries that enjoy comprehensive social protection systems, as verified by the reduction of the Gini poverty coefficient:
Despite these results, social protection coverage around the world is still low. Only 45% of the world population is covered by at least one social protection scheme:
Some of the obstacles in establishing effective coverage of vulnerable groups are:
- Informal employment, which is not usually covered by social protection schemes, especially contributory programmes;
- Location, especially for those living in remote areas or slums; and
- Policy design and implementation, given that systems with both contributory and targeted schemes can create a coverage gap for those in the middle of the income distribution.
The challenge of exclusion
Even when social protection schemes are universal, some people are left out, especially due to lack of access to information regarding social protection schemes; poor accessibility; and complex registration methods.
Furthermore, some individuals fall outside the eligible population as defined by countries – migrants in irregular situations, for instance, often don’t have access to basic social protection. A lack of citizenship among some social groups, such as ethnic minorities, deprives them of the right to social protection.
The limited empirical evidence on social protection schemes shows inconclusive results on the ability of social protection schemes to reduce inequalities. However, it suggests that social protection does not have a significant impact in reducing inequalities across social groups. In some Latin American countries, taxes and transfers payed barely reduced income inequalities across ethnic groups Members from ethnic minorities, who are more likely to live in poverty may be more likely to receive transfers, but these are usually not sufficient to address gaps between minority groups and the majority, as these gaps are too large for social transfers alone. Additionally, the amount of benefits received or the duration of programmes is not always sufficient to provoke substantial changes in the beneficiaries’ socioeconomic condition.
Social protection to leave no one behind – 3 key conditions:
The webinar went on to present policy recommendations to improve access to social protection, established around three basic policy principles:
1. Availability: Programmes should be available at all stages of a lifecycle, from childhood to old age, a process that requires the pursuit of universal coverage with a strong legal and institutional framework.
- Social protection systems can’t rely exclusively on contributory schemes. A minimum set of tax-financed alternatives to guarantee coverage should be employed, including universal child benefits, universal old-age pensions, disability, healthcare, etc.
2. Accessibility: Promoting a universal framework, sensitive to difference, which allows for all members of society to enjoy the same rights. This entails adapting policies to the varying circumstances the population faces.
- Targeted or specialised measures should not be the main line of action. Universal social protection is necessary, however special targeted measures are still needed, even if temporarily, to help specific groups with the challenges they face. These measures should not replace universal measures, but serve as complements, not substitutes.
- Targeted measures should not be approached as cost-saving measures, given that this approach is administratively difficult to implement, aside from being costly and prone to targeting errors. Social protection programmes with conditions are less likely to be inclusive.
- Complex administrative procedures prevent people from accessing social protection schemes. Simplified administrative procedures have proven to be successful in bringing potential beneficiaries into social protection systems.
- Participation and consultation is fundamental to understand the challenges that the population faces. Additionally, beneficiary feedback should be incited, including robust grievance mechanisms.
- Information and communication systems should be tailored to each group of the population, improving access to programmes.
3. Adequacy: Social protection transfers are at times too low to make a difference. Fiscal commitment and political will are required to ensure that social protection provides basic income security for all. Although social protection floors are affordable in most countries (but not all), countries need to balance between sufficiency and sustainability, especially when considering the world’s aging population.
In conclusion, social protection alone cannot solve social exclusion, being unable to address stigma and discrimination. For social protection systems to function sustainably, they must be linked to appropriate and adequate social services.