By Christina Dankmeyer, Social Protection Advisor, GIZ
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Together to achieve Universal Social Protection by 2030
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Social protection has been long overlooked. Yet, since 1948, everyone has the right to a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to social security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” ‘In the event of’ implies that we do not notice it when we do not need it.
Only since the 1990s, growing evidence from more and more programmes worldwide has helped complete the picture on the benefits of social protection. In Africa, for example, investing USD 1 in social protection has been found to generate between USD 1.84 and USD 2.5 in economic activity (Taylor, 2013). In Europe, social protection programmes help reduce inequality by one-third (ILO, 2011).
Against this background, striving for universality in social protection is part of a broader social trend. Universality, after all, is a defining and one of the more innovative features of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This includes both the universality of principles — the 2030 Agenda rests on a set of universal principles/human rights applicable in all countries, in all contexts and circumstances, and at all times — and the universality of reach –the 2030 Agenda is for all people in line with the call to ‘leave no one behind’, a central pledge by member states.
Both education 2030 and universal health coverage (UHC) call for universality, as reflected by SDGs 4 and 3. Arguments for doing so include, amongst others, a rights-based approach: Social security is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with education and health. What is also emphasised is equity, as reflected in the UHC 2030 Joint Vision for Healthy Lives and the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, as well as access and inclusion. While those with equal needs should have equal access, those with greater need should have greater opportunities to access. Applied to social protection, this implies that, while the risk helps determine the type of support, the need should determine the extent of support provided. Yet, equity can be addressed not only on the side of service delivery, but also on the side of service financing. Thus, universal social protection (USP) aims to ensure equitable access to all people and protect them throughout their lives against poverty and risks to their livelihoods and well-being through a nationally defined social protection system of policies and programmes.
Why does this concern all of us? Most people in any country, if asked, would not necessarily attach any meaning to “universal social protection”. Rather, they would certainly agree that they prefer not to live in fear of losing everything in the case of an illness, an accident, unemployment or any other unforeseen crisis such as a natural disaster. As the global community gathers this week in Geneva for the world’s first Universal Social Protection Conference and shortly thereafter for the 2019 UN Commission for Social Development to discuss the priority theme of “addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies”, we need to remember what social protection ‘’for all’’ really means, especially to the 55% of the world’s population that are still not covered by any social protection benefit.
The challenge is huge and given the current low baseline of only 29% of people worldwide having access to comprehensive social protection, attaining the goal of Universal Social Protection by 2030 seems out of reach. While we now know what has not worked, we are only starting to understand what may work.
Achieving USP by 2030 would require not only a drastically increased amount of domestic resources – using both new and existing sources of funding and increasing efficiency – but also international support. To make this possible, the perception of social protection needs to change, so that providing social protection for all is prioritised. For this to happen, it is necessary to advocate for social protection as a key component of inclusive economic growth and change perceptions that portray it as handouts. Ultimately, as Loewe and Dembowski (2018) write, ‘’Social protection is the basis for development, not its payoff.’’
A recent paper on “A systems perspective on Universal Social Protection – Towards life-long equitable access to comprehensive social protection for all” as part of the German Health Practice Collection addresses questions such as whether the goal to achieve USP by 2030 is realistic, which role targeting plays in achieving USP and what can enable but also hamper the development of universal social protection.