UN Report Discusses Critical Need for Social Protection Floor

“In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights called for social protection for all in the form of adequate life standards, access to health, education, food, housing, and social security …Despite the six decades of strong economic growth that followed [its] adoption, access to adequate social protection, benefits and services remains a privilege offered to relatively few people.”

Thus spoke Michele Bachelet, former President of Chile, as she delivered the ground-breaking report, “Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization,” to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday afternoon in New York City . Bachelet chaired the report’s Advisory Group, which was convened last year by the International Labor Organization with collaboration from the WHO.

“This is a crucial report that comes at a critical time,” said the UN Secretary General in a statement. “People everywhere are anxious about the future, frustrated about the economy, and upset with leaders. Achieving social protection for all is critical to building fairer, more inclusive and equitable societies.”

As defined by the UN, a social protection floor consists of two core components: basic income security and access to essential social services. Argentina’s Asignacion Universal por Hijo establishes this floor by combining cash transfers with access to basic services for the children of informal economy workers and the unemployed. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia provides income support to poor families conditioned upon child school attendance and vaccinations. In South Africa, the main elements of the protection floor are the Child Support Grant and the Old Persons Grant.

The ideas outlined in the report have been well-received around the world. The OECD Social Policy Ministers, together with their counterparts from the Russian Federation, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa recently reaffirmed their commitment “to providing a basic social protection floor in emerging and developing economies.” In its latest session, the UN Economic and Social Council approved a resolution that “recognizes the need to promote and realize at least basic social protection.” In September, the Ministers of Employment and Labor of the G20 recommended the development of social protection floors, and its working group also includes it as a major issue for international cooperation with low-income countries.

Last month, the New America Foundation launched its landmark Global Savings and Social Protection Initiative to explore the linkages between public benefit programs and the creation of wealth. With the exponential increase in attention that these issues are receiving from global bodies such as the UN, OECD and G20, GSSP’s results are sure to be an essential contribution to this rapidly expanding dialogue.


Vishnu Sridharan