COVID-19 has shown, once more, the vital importance of solidarity – the very spirit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – including the urgency of achieving universal social protection for all human beings, no matter who or where they are. Universal social protection is a human right and key to recovery, for a green transition and for sustainable and inclusive economic and social development for individuals, communities and nations.
All countries have committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 1.3 to “implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable”, thereby signalling that ensuring social protection for all the world’s citizens by 2030 is feasible. As that deadline approaches, the pressing question is ‘How?’
In 2016, the World Bank and the International Labour Organization jointly initiated the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection (USP2030), to transform the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s vision of universal social protection into reality. USP2030 has grown into a worldwide alliance which, for the first time, brings together governments, international and regional organisations, social partners and civil society organisations, in a shared commitment towards ensuring social protection for all, as stated in the partnership’s Call to Action.
On March 2, 2021, USP2030 members and interested partners came together for the 2nd Membership Assembly. It took place at a critical moment, as highlighted by Shahra Razavi (ILO) and Michal Rutkowksi (World Bank), allowing for a reflection on the unprecedented developments over the past year. The debates focused on two key issues for USP2030 and universal social protection – financing and delivery mechanisms – that have gained considerable traction during the crisis, and were also reflected in the discussions on the USP2030’s next steps.
The unprecedented COVID-19 response has shown government’s ability to rapidly scale up social protection, but has also magnified the pre-existing coverage and financing gaps. Unless this momentum is harnessed to build strong social protection systems, including floors, the gains in social protection will remain short-lived. Underlying the quest to achieve SDG 1.3 is sustainable financing. Natalia Winder Rossi (UNICEF), Norma Gabriela López Castañeda (IMSS, Mexico), Olivier de Schutter (United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights), Sharan Burrow (ITUC) and David Coady (IMF) discussed ways forward to devise sustainable financing strategies, considering the full range of policy options, building on enhanced domestic resource mobilisation and supported by international coordination and solidarity. This also implies building synergies with other development objectives rather than competing for resources, and strong links between resource mobilization and allocation with a medium- to long-term view.
In addition to mobilising resources for social protection, countries also faced the challenge of identifying beneficiaries and delivering benefits in a transparent, timely and safe fashion. This brought the importance of social protection delivery systems to the fore. Raúl Julián Ruggia Frick (ISSA), Ralf Radermacher (GIZ), Maliki (BAPPENAS, Indonesia), Ezequiel Barbenza (Ministry of Agriculture, Argentina) and Philip Alston (former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights) exchanged their views on how to take advantage of digital technologies and information systems, while mitigating risks, such as exacerbating existing exclusions or infringing on the right to privacy. Understanding digitalisation not as an end, but as a means to achieve important ends, its potential gains can be immense when appropriately designed and implemented, as illustrated by examples from Argentina and Indonesia. Both the technological and the human aspects of digitalisation are important, including the empowerment of people.
Taking the social protection agenda forward
The final session of the Membership Assembly was dedicated to reflecting on what these discussions meant for the partnership in terms of concrete actions. In addition to continued advocacy for both USP2030 and universal social protection, it was agreed to continue working in particular on the sustainable and equitable financing of social protection, as well as on adaptive and sustainable delivery systems, thereby making the right to social security a reality. This will be complemented by exploring how to enhance technical exchanges and joint support to countries.
Countries and organisations are invited to join USP2030 to promote social protection and accelerate progress towards achieving SDG 1.3. To join the 40 countries and organisations already members of USP2030, interested governments or organisations should formally state their interest in joining and affirm their commitment to USP2030’s Call to Action. Full information on joining the partnership can be found here.