Decent work for all is not a slogan for us. It is our mission. We work together with a vast variety of stakeholders to achieve decent work for all; for the informal and formal sector, for women and men, for more and less advantaged. While we try to spread the concept of decent work across different fora of international Geneva, the ILO, trade unions, the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors and various UN Special Rapporteurs are particularly close partners in this field. Recently, workers’ exposure to hazardous substances has been addressed in our projects and we are keen to look at the future of work.
Countries must prepare for future crises by setting up a Global Fund for Social Protection, a new international financing mechanism that will help protect their populations from the next pandemic, says a new report presented today by Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on poverty, before the Human Rights Council.
“Over two years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the World Health Organisation said that governments had to ‘fix the roof before the rain came’. And yet countries were still caught off-guard in 2020.
The world can and must do better next time. Individual countries, particularly low-income ones, cannot prepare on their own. A new mechanism at the international level would provide both the right incentives and the financial sustainability necessary to establish robust social protection systems,” said the UN poverty expert.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the majority of the world’s population — 55 percent, or 4 billion people — lacks any form of social protection. Another 16 percent, or 1.2 billion people, enjoy only partial protection. Only 35 percent of children, approximately one in three, benefit from child allowances that would ensure they receive childcare, nutrition, and education.
“The overall picture is clear: in the past, too little was invested in healthcare, unemployment, old-age pensions, or children and disability allowances,” said De Schutter. “And the poor are now paying the high cost of this mistake.”
Investments in such public programs, part of what universal social protection systems are, would have largely prevented the additional 88 to 115 million people who were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 and the additional 23 to 35 million that are expected for 2021.
“Establishing a Global Fund for Social Protection is doable, and it is affordable, but it requires political will,” De Schutter said. “The ILO estimates that less than $78 billion would be needed for low-income countries to establish social protection floors, including healthcare, covering their population of 711 million. While that might sound like a high figure, it is actually less than half of what developed countries are already providing in development aid. The question is therefore not about affordability, but about setting the right political priorities.”
“Moreover, social protection is not just a cost weighing on public budgets,” he added. “It is an investment that benefits societies over generations, helping increase education levels, improving food security and health, and yielding economic benefits for local economies. It is a steppingstone towards more equal and resilient societies.”
The Global Fund for Social Protection will allow recipient countries to gradually increase their own levels of funding devoted to social protection. Rather than creating a new form of dependency, the Fund will both help identify new sources of domestic revenue and ensure sustainable levels of support to countries committed to these programs.
“In fact, the Global Fund should gradually make international support redundant, and it can be phased out once countries have enhanced their capacity to raise taxes progressively and to redistribute them equitably in the form of universal social protection,” the expert said.
“Last week, on June 19th, the International Labour Conference voted to bring the Global fund for social protection to the work table of the ILO, a historical breakthrough. We should now set as our collective goal to put in place this new solidarity mechanism by June 2022, 10 years after the initial ILO Recommendation on social protection floors was adopted,” said De Schutter. “The world can’t wait for the next pandemic to happen before we get ready. We need to act now, and a Global Fund of Social Protection is our best bet.”
Watch the livestreamed presentation on 30 June from 3pm CEST HERE
In the face of a global catastrophe, it's not very difficult to see the urgency for social protection floors. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, people knew: social protection rights are human rights that should not be yielded to market forces. As early as 2012, the member states of the International Labour Organization (ILO) committed themselves to establishing, maintaining and implementing universal and rights-based basic social protection systems (Social Protection Floors). This is intended to ensure essential health care and basic income security worldwide for children, people of working age who are unable to earn a sufficient income and the elderly. The Social Protection Floor Index (SPFI), which in 2020 will be published as an interactive infographic for the first time, measures the extent to which the respective governments fulfil this promise.
The instrument was developed by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) and measures which state investment is necessary to guarantee a minimum standard of social protection. It shows that most countries in the world would have to spend less than 5% of their gross domestic product to maintain universal basic social protection systems. At the same time, the index helps to identify countries that are dependent on the support of the international community.
The current version of the Social Protection Floor Index and the interactive map are based on the September 2019 global poverty update from the World Bank. The recently released March 2020 global poverty update presents new poverty estimates for 2018 and revises the previously published estimates for earlier years (this document outlines all changes that were made). The Social Protection Floor Index and the map will be updated as soon as possible.
For millions of people, the Corona virus means a threat to their health and their job. The situation demonstrates that social security systems are vital for individuals but also for society as a whole.
Within the ILO framework, the states of the world agreed already in 2012 that universal and rights-based Social Protection Floors should be introduced. Despite this agreement, there is still a lack of basic health care and minimum income security, especially in countries of the global south. So as to strengthen the ability to measure and estimate particular states’ deficits but also their progress, the FES and the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors jointly developed an instrument in 2015: The Social Protection Floor Index (SPFI). This index is updated continuously and in 2020 for the first time appears as an interactive map. The map provides a global overview and makes it easier for civil society organizations and trade unions to access the index for their work.
We talked to Michael Cichon, an author and developer of the SPFI. After many years of working in the ILO Secretariat, a position at the International Council on Social Welfare and an honorary professorship at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance (UNU MERIT), Michael Cichon today works as an independent economist.
This interview was conducted by Laura Lepsy.
In June 2012, The International Labour Conference adopted Recommendation No. 202 concerning national floors of social protection. Recommendation R. 202 (R.202) provides guidance for ILO member states on how to establish floors of social protection for all within an overall strategy that also seeks to extend even higher levels of social security to as many people as possible. As members of the ILO, all countries should take that recommendation into account when developing their national social protection system. R. 202 was a global social policy milestone for the achievement of universal social protection. This objective was further strengthened by including SP floors into the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. However, R 202 leaves the monitoring of the implementation to national societal mechanisms. The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) decided early after the adoption of R.202 that civil society should play an active role in monitoring and that it should develop its own monitoring instrument. Hence the GCSPF in 2014/15 got together with researchers from the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance at the United Nations University in Maastricht and developed a Monitoring Index for national SPF policies.
Governments need constant reminders that they have promised to achieve social protection for all within the next decade or so. Hence, the seriousness and effectiveness of their social protection policies require constant critical - and perhaps even skeptical - monitoring. Effective monitoring of progress towards universal social protection needs powerful and objective instruments. The SPF index was conceived as a simple and robust monitoring tool for civil society organisations and other interested groups.
The SPF Index is an overall composite Index that merges national social protection gaps into one single figure that can be used to
The single figure is the estimated amount of resources that would be needed to close gaps in minimum income security and essential health care. The income security gap indicates the total amount of resources that would be needed to raise the income of all poor in a country to a national or international poverty line. The health care gap is calculated as the (possible) shortfall of a country’s public health expenditure in comparison to a level of adequate expenditure that would guarantee a health care system with sufficient staff and suitable internal resource allocation.
The amount of resources required to close SP gaps is expressed in percent of GDP. This relative measure allows an easy comparison to overall revenues, to GDP or to tax to GDP ratios. Contrary to any other composite indexes that are mere figures, this indicator speaks, i.e. it has a real meaning. It signals to governments and societies the minimum amount of government revenue or tax income that needs to be invested to close their national SP gaps.
To map developments towards universal social protection, long series of figures are necessary. Otherwise policy trends cannot be properly identified. To ensure that policy trends clearly emerge and index changes are not just accidental data effects, a long series of figures is needed. This is why it is important that the index calculations are repeated every second year. This is a relatively cost effective operation as the data that are used by the Index are exclusively national, OECD, Word Bank and WHO data, which are publicly available.
SPF Index results show that there are only about a dozen developing countries that cannot possibly afford to complete SPFs by their own means. R.202 envisages that ILO members who do not have sufficient national resources may seek international help to finance their SPFs. It would be a good, systemic and well targeted investment of international development aid to support national SPFs on a temporary basis. International support should take the form of matching national investments and should be tied to credible policies that are aiming at establishing self-support within a reasonable time frame.
Ideally, we should have a Global Fund for Social Protection. The ILO first explored the idea in 2002. Later, it was developed further by former UN Special Rapporteurs Olivier de Schutter and Magdalena Sepulveda. One could try to convince governments to set up the fund. This has been done before in the case of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). That fund disburses presently around US $ 4 billion a year. Our SPF Index shows that we would need a fund of that size or preferably about twice that size to support a dozen poor countries, to make credible steps towards a complete SPF and to pull millions of people out of poverty and misery.
However, at a time when national egoism, or worse nationalism, and social indifference are on the rise and multilateralism seems to lose ground, the appetite for another big fund is certainly limited. This is why I think that we – civil society that is - should simply kick-start such a fund by engaging global citizens who want to contribute to real social change. We would need roughly 1% of the income of the World’s about 2000 billionaires to make up one third of that amount, and we would need 1% of the income of about 16 million people with a medium income to make up for the other two thirds.
 For more information see: De Schutter, O. & Sepúlveda, M. (2012) Underwriting the Poor: A Global Fund for Social Protection
Michael Chinon, March 13th 2020
Department/Section: Globale Politik und Entwicklung