Africa: World Needs to Prepare for Next Crisis By Setting Up Global Fund for Social Protection Now - UN Expert

Geneva — "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."

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