AfricaFocus (Washington, DC)

28 October 2012

Africa: Social Security & the Right to Food

Since Amartya Sen's pioneering work on the subject three decades ago, it has been a truism that famine is caused most directly not by shortages of food but by inequalities which deprive poor people of the resources to compensate for such shortages.

Now a new joint report by UN special rapporteurs on the right to food and on extreme poverty is drawing the logical conclusion, namely the need for a global social security fund "of last resort" to enable every country, however poor, to provide guarantees for its citizens against catastrophic events that exhaust their resources needed for survival.

The fundamental principle behind this proposal, is the international human rights law guarantee of "the right to an adequate standard of living for everyone, including the right to food." The report reaffirms the obligation of all governments to guarantee these rights for their own citizens. But it also stresses the global obligation to provide resources for their fulfillment in cases where national governments lack resources to do so. While not denying the urgency on ensuring sustainable agricultural production to meet the needs of all the world's people, the report stresses the parallel need to ensure that shortages do not, as is now the case, threaten the survival of the most vulnerable.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the summary and excerpts from this new report. The full report is available at http://www.srfood.org / direct URL http://tinyurl.com/9kcuwy5

In other related developments this month, the Committee on World Food Security, meeting in Rome, approved a number of important statement affirming the right to food and international obligations to ensure its fulfillment.

For extensive reports see Committee on World Food Security http://www.fao.org/cfs/en/

"A global step forward on climate and agriculture," October 25, 2012, by Shefali Sharma, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy http://www.iatp.org/blog/ / direct URL http://tinyurl.com/928tj9y

"In a new report launched [on October 18], ActionAid and International Food Security Network called on governments, international agencies and UN bodies to tackle rising global food prices. The report looks at what is causing food prices to rise sharply in developing countries, using evidence from Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Senegal." http://www.actionaidusa.org/newsroom/ / direct URL http://tinyurl.com/9zudrxc

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on aid, poverty, & public investment, visit http://www.africafocus.org/aidexp.php

Of particular relevance is the excerpt from the 2010 book by Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos, and David Hulme, entitled Just Give Money to the Poor http://www.africafocus.org/docs10/pov1006.php - Editor's Note

Underwriting the Poor: A Global Fund for Social Protection

Briefing Note 07 - October 2012

Olivier De Schutter and Magdalena Sepúlveda

http://www.srfood.org / direct URL http://tinyurl.com/9kcuwy5

Olivier De Schutter was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food in March 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He is independent from any government or organization, and he reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. For more on the work of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, visit http://www.srfood.org or http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/food/index.htm. The Special Rapporteur can be contacted at srfood@ohchr.org.

Magdalena Sepúlveda was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in May 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. She is independent from any government or organization, and she reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly. For more information, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx. The Special Rapporteur can be contacted at srextremepoverty@ohchr.org.

Summary

Seventy-five to eighty per cent of the world's poor do not have comprehensive social protection, yet the total costs of introducing social protection would amount to only 2-6 per cent of global GDP. Poorer States often have not adopted social protection systems because a) the development models supported by major international institutions have pushed States to lower government spending and reduce the size of the State; b) where poverty and need is widespread, infrastructure limited and the ability of local populations to pay into the system weak, meeting the basic costs of social protection systems today is a major challenge; and c) in many developing countries (particularly small ones) a large portion of the population is susceptible to the same risks of unpredicted covariant shocks, e.g. natural disasters, epidemic diseases or extreme food price increases, leading to simultaneous surges in demand for social protection and decreases in State export and taxation revenues.

To help overcome these obstacles and ensure the provision of human rights-based social protection systems in all countries, the Special Rapporteurs call for the creation of a Global Fund for Social Protection (GFSP) with two key functions: a) its facility branch would close the funding shortfall for putting in place a social protection floor in least developed countries (LDCs); b) its reinsurance branch would help underwrite these schemes against the risks of excess demand triggered by major shocks.

Introduction

Health care, unemployment insurance, food aid, disability benefits: all of these services aim to ensure the right to an adequate standard of living for everyone, including the right to food. They are part of what is commonly known as social protection, social insurance or social security. Social protection alleviates human beings from being exposed to existential fears connected to the risk of illness, accident, loss of income, parenthood, old age and other situations they cannot meet solely with their own resources. It aims to make poor people less vulnerable and to provide the stability and resources needed to develop capabilities and to make choices about their lives and futures. Social protection can work to combat poverty and inequality, to foster social inclusion and cohesion, to ensure adequate opportunities for decent work, and to act as a stabilizer in times of crisis. Indeed the fundamental importance of social protection is recognized by its inclusion in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a basic human right endowed to all individuals.

The Human Rights Council has requested the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Olivier De Schutter, inter alia, to "submit proposals that could help the realization of Millennium Development Goal No. 1 to halve by the year 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, as well as to realize the right to food, in particular, taking into account the role of international assistance and cooperation in reinforcing national actions to implement sustainable food security policies" (Res. 6/2). The Council has asked the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Ms. Magdalena Sep?lveda Carmona, inter alia, to "identify approaches for removing all obstacles, including institutional ones, to the full enjoyment of human rights for people living in extreme poverty and to identify efficient measures to promote their rights" (Res. 17/13).

The proposal made in this note by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, together with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, is based on a simple fact: While the benefits of social protection are well acknowledged, they are too often unavailable. According to estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO), seventy-five to eighty per cent of the world population does not have access to "comprehensive social security" protection to shield them from the effects of unemployment, illness, or disability - not to mention crop failure or soaring food costs. If a crisis hits, the lack of social protection leaves millions of people to rely on their own limited coping mechanisms and charity they must resort to drastic measures, such as removing their children from school to save money, or selling the assets that they use to generate income, such as land or livestock, thus jeopardizing their ability to cope with future shocks.

In part, historical reasons explain why low income or poorer States have not adopted social protection systems. In the past, major international institutions have pushed States to lower government spending and programming in favour of economic development, opening markets and reducing the size of the State. In the last decade however, many international institutions have begun to address the benefits of social protection systems to development and to promote their adoption. The ILO, through a number of initiatives, including the development of the social protection floor concept, has been leading the way. The World Bank and the G20 have made similar calls for the adoption of social protection5 and social protection will serve as a point of discussion in the 2012 annual plenary session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS)\. These developments indicate new policy space and international support for the creation of social protection systems in poor countries.

But the obstacles that low-income countries face in moving towards this objective are not simply the legacy of now defunct development models. In many developing countries - especially small countries in which a large portion of the population is susceptible to the same risks - governments may be understandably reluctant to insure their citizens against the risks they face. One of the reasons little or no social protection is provided by Least Developed Countries (LDCs), even if it is affordable, is the fear of unpredicted, covariant shocks. In these countries, shocks such as natural disasters, epidemic diseases or extreme price increases of basic food commodities could lead to peaks in demand for social protection that could not be accommodated by the national system and would cause its ruin.

If a single event affects a significant portion of the population, not only will demand for social support grow too rapidly for the government to absorb, but the shock may decrease government revenues at the same time by, for example, lowering tax or export revenues. Where poverty is widespread, infrastructure limited and the ability of local populations to pay into the system weak, meeting the basic costs of social protection systems is already a challenge for many low-income countries, even before shock-related risks are accounted for. Given these basic costs, as well as the cost associated with the risks, governments have been reluctant to adopt social protection systems. In order to make social protection a reality it will be necessary to address both types of cost.

This paper suggests the creation of a Global Fund for Social Protection (GFSP), to provide States the financial support needed to make social protection viable. The GFSP would provide two services: (1) it would respond to "structural," or endemic, poverty by providing support for States to meet basic social protection floors ; and (2) it would serve as a reinsurance provider offering protection to the State against unexpected shocks to their social insurance systems. Offering reinsurance against these shocks would allow LDCs to cede the relevant risks and sustainably operate social protection systems. Grounded in the commitment of poor States to provide their maximum available resources to their social protection systems, as well as in the commitment of all States to discharge their duties of international assistance and cooperation in support of the realization of human rights, the GFSP would allow both for a sharing of costs, and for the utilization of reinsurance mechanisms to account for risks.

While the individual costs for LDCs might be daunting, it is not unfeasible for the international community to collectively fund social protection systems. The total costs of introducing basic social protection are estimated to amount to 2 per cent to 6 per cent of global GDP, depending on how many people would be covered - only the world's poor or all people currently without basic social protection. Based on the global GDP of 2010 the amount needed to finance social protection would therefore equate to 1.6 trillion USD to 3.79 trillion USD. To set up and fund the proposed GFSP for the LDCs, only a small fraction of this sum would be required, however: the GDP of LDCs represents less than 2 per cent of total GDP, and it would be expected that LDCs cover most of the cost of social protection of their populations. And these figures relate to the costs of covering all LDCs, by the establishment of a mechanism at global level. But the model of cooperation proposed here could be implemented also, or during a first phase, between a small group of rich countries and a small group of lowincome countries; or it could form a template for a new form of South-South cooperation. ...

Financing a global social protection floor and ensuring that everyone has access to social security is possible. But it can only be achieved if developed and emerging countries join forces with developing countries to form the political will to do so. ...

1. Promoting Social Protection

1.1. Social Protection

Social protection, social insurance and social security provide benefits that secure the means for a basic standard of living both in cases of social risk and of need. All of these terms, used interchangeably in this paper,16 refer to systems by which benefits are provided, in cash or in kind, to protect individuals against risks such as the loss of work-related income (or insufficient income), caused by sickness, disability, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, old age, or death of a family member; lack of access or unaffordable access to health care; insufficient family support, particularly for children and adult dependants; or more generally, poverty and social exclusion.

According to the ILO, social protection measures can include cash transfer schemes, public work programmes, school stipends, unemployment or disability benefits, social pensions, food vouchers and food transfers, and user fee exemptions for health care or education subsidies. The schemes may be either contributory (insurance) schemes, involving generally "the compulsory contributions from beneficiaries, employers and, sometimes, the State, in conjunction with the payment of benefits and administrative expenses from a common fund", or non-contributory schemes, which in turn can be either universal (providing "the relevant benefit to everyone who experiences a particular risk or contingency"), or targeted (providing benefits to those in a situation of need).

The benefits of social protection have already been noted above. Social protection can play a key role in securing people against extreme poverty, deprivation and uncertainty about the future. Crucially, social protection measures insure the poor against risks stemming from various shocks, to which they are particularly vulnerable. Social protection systems have the potential to contribute to the realization of basic human rights, such as the rights to food, education and health, and to combat systemic inequality. Building from this, social protection provides States a means to support marginalized groups, tackle the immediate problems of child hunger and malnutrition, and advance women's rights. For example, the Bolsa Familia in Brazil, and the Child Support Grant in South Africa, which both provide cash-transfers to poor families have been successful in reducing child poverty, and hunger. Further it is estimated that in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, poverty and inequality rates are "approximately half of those that might be expected in the absence of such social protection provisions." ...

1.2. The Right to Social Protection

Social protection is a human right, enshrined in multiple sources of international law. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines the right to social security, and read together with article 25 forms the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and of one's family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other livelihood-curtailing circumstances beyond one's control. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) reiterates the right to social security, including social insurance. In addition, article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women explicitly protect children's and women's right to social security.

The right to social protection is authoritatively defined by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in General Comment No. 19, The Right to Social Security, as encompassing "the right to access and maintain benefits, whether in cash or in kind, without discrimination in order to secure protection, inter alia, from (a) lack of work-related income caused by sickness, disability, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, old age, or death of a family member; (b) unaffordable access to health care; (c) insufficient family support, particularly for children and adult dependents." ...

As for other economic and social rights, States must respect, protect, and fulfill the right to social protection. The obligation to respect requires that States "refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right to social security." The obligation to protect requires that States not allow third parties to hinder the ability of individuals to enjoy their right to social protection. Finally, the obligation to fulfill requires that States "adopt the necessary measures, including the implementation of a social security scheme, directed towards the full realization of the right to social security." ...

1.3. The Right to Social Protection and the Right to Food

The right to social protection is deeply linked to the right to adequate food. Social protection can play a vital role in increasing the ability of individuals to have access to food. Economic access implies that individuals have the purchasing power and the means to acquire food from markets.

When individuals are unable to secure sufficient income for reasons of disability, unemployment health or poverty, the State must step in to provide support, thus discharging its obligation to fulfill the right to food. By fulfilling the right to food through social protection, States can ensure that hunger is not stigmatizing and that individuals are able to lead lives of dignity, where they make choices about their lives and their food consumption, and live without fear of hunger.

Social protection can relieve immediate hunger, but also relieves the fear of future hunger. A recent report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition established by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) describes succinctly the connection between long-term food security and social protection: "People who are already poor are vulnerable to hunger because they lack the resources to meet their basic needs on a daily basis. They are also highly vulnerable to even small shocks that will push them closer to destitution, starvation, and even premature mortality. The appropriate social protection response to chronic poverty-related food insecurity is social assistance linked to 'livelihood promotion' measures that enhance incomes. People who are not poor now but face the risk of future poverty are vulnerable to hunger if these risks materialize and they are inadequately protected against them (they will face transitory food insecurity)."

1.4. Obligations for the Allocation of Resources

Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), States must devote their maximum available resources to the fulfillment of economic and social rights, including through the establishment of social protection systems. As recognized under the ICESCR, some dimensions of economic and social rights can only be achieved progressively over time. However, this cannot be invoked as a pretext for delaying action. States are required to devote their maximum available resources at any given time towards the progressive realization of economic and social rights.

What constitutes a country's maximum available resources should be determined dynamically, rather than from a static perspective. Certain core obligations must be complied with at all times, even by States, which have few resources available. According to the CESCR, "In order for a State party to be able to attribute its failure to meet at least its minimum core obligations to a lack of available resources it must demonstrate that every effort has been made to use all resources that are at its disposition in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, those minimum obligations." Specifically, in regards to the right to food, the Committee states that "Should a State party argue that resource constraints make it impossible to provide access to food for those who are unable by themselves to secure such access, the State has to demonstrate that every effort has been made to use all the resources at its disposal in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, those minimum obligations." Determining what constitutes a State's maximum available resources is not a question of delegating a certain portion of taxes to the fulfillment of economic and social rights, but a question of broader fiscal policy and how the tax system is conceived. What constitutes maximum available resources, is thus a question of both willingness and ability to pay,58 and requires that States take their human rights obligations into account when making decisions regarding the mobilization of resources (including through taxes) and the setting of the budget.

States which are unable to mobilize sufficient resources by themselves must call upon international assistance and cooperation, and those States in a position to assist should provide the support required, as recalled in Principle 33 of the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This obligation is an implication of article 28 UDHR entitling everyone to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in the UDHR can be fully realized.

In regards to the right to social security, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that "[d] epending on the availability of resources, States parties should facilitate the realization of the right to social security in other countries, for example through provision of economic and technical assistance. International assistance should be provided in a manner that is consistent with the Covenant and other human rights standards, and sustainable and culturally appropriate. Economically developed States parties have a special responsibility for and interest in assisting the developing countries in this regard."61 On the right to food, States "should recognize the essential role of international cooperation and comply with their commitment to take joint and separate action to achieve the full realization of the right to adequate food. In implementing this commitment, States parties should take steps to respect the enjoyment of the right to food in other countries, to protect that right, to facilitate access to food and to provide the necessary aid when required." Helping to create and co-fund the GFSP could be a means for richer States to meet their legal and moral obligation to assist LDCs in providing social protection. The following sections of this Briefing Note explain how.

[remaining sections available in full briefing note on-line at http://tinyurl.com/9kcuwy5]

4. Conclusions

In 2012, the ILO's Advisory Group on the social protection floor recommended that "donors provide predictable multiyear financial support for the strengthening of nationally defined social protection floors in low-income countries within their own budgetary frameworks and respecting their ownership". It further suggested that "traditional donors, such as the OECD member countries, and emerging donors, agree on triangular cooperation mechanisms to enable building social protection in partner low-income countries. We recommend that such mechanisms be agreed in the highlevel forums on aid effectiveness and other international forums on development cooperation." The Global Fund for Social Protection is one channel through which this recommendation can be implemented. It is consistent with the idea, also put forward by the ILO, that while countries should in principle finance their social protection systems, "Members whose economic and fiscal capacities are insufficient to implement the guarantees may seek international cooperation and support that complement their own efforts".

The GFSP, as described above, would place responsibilities on both States implementing social protection systems - which would be expected to make rights-based commitments towards the establishment of a social protection floor and to devote their maximum available resources to the financing of such systems - and other States - which are in a position to support those implementing social protection systems. ...

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