A new report says while the need for social protections is widely recognized, many people around the world don’t have them.
The International Labor Organization says less than 30-percent of the population has guaranteed access to such things as health care or unemployment safeguards.
The ILO has released its World Social Protection Report: Building economic recovery, inclusive development and social justice. It says that “social protection policies play a critical role…reducing poverty and inequality… and boosting human capital and productivity.”
Christina Behrendt, an ILO senior protection policy specialist, said, “By social protection we mean a broad range of policies that aim at providing people with social security, which is a human right – starting from child and family benefits, unemployment protection, benefits for people with disabilities, maternity benefits, old age pensions, access to health care. So it’s a very, very broad range of benefits.”
The ILO report said inadequate or a lack of social protections “is associated with high and persistent levels of poverty…and growing levels of inequality.”
“They’re basically important in countries al all levels of development because this is really a way for the countries to make sure that the resources in the countries are distributed in a just way. That everyone is benefitting basically from the proceeds of growth as a way of ensuring inclusive growth. So making sure that the benefits of growth are available to everyone,” Behrendt said.
She said such policies are a way for a country to invest in its people. Education is one example of such investment.
“Many countries, especially in developing countries and emerging countries recently, have really taken quite bold steps to invest more in social protection, which was not necessarily the case before. They have really taken these steps as a conscious decision because they felt that the lack of social protection constituted an obstacle to development.”
She said most countries do have some measures in place, but they usually benefit only a small part of the population. The ILO specialist said some lessons about social protections were learned after the global economic crisis struck in 2008.
“Social protections were quite a prominent part in many countries of the fiscal stimulus packages that were introduced. What we did learn is that they actually had a very substantial impact. Actually they had a quite substantial multiplier effect. But especially the cash incomes played a very important role because they were really one way of stimulating the economy,” she said.
However, she said that in 2010, many governments decided to impose fiscal consolidation or austerity measures. Behrendt describes the move as premature.
“That really kind of stumbled and hindered and reduced the domestic demand, which would have been necessary really to keep up the recovery.”
Other lessons, Behrendt said, can be found in the 2013 tragedy in Bangladesh when the eight-story Rana Plaza commercial building collapsed. Over 1,100 people died and more than 2,500 people were injured. And then there was last month’s Soma mine disaster in Turkey in which more than 300 miners were killed.
“There are kind of no mechanisms in place that would provide them with at least some kind of ways to make their living after they’ve been hurt or after some of their family members might have died in these accidents.
She added that less dramatic accidents happen every day and affect many people.
The biggest argument governments use not implement social protections is that they are too expensive.
“Many countries say they are too poor, that they don’t have the fiscal resources to implement those measures. But at the same time what we also see in countries -- which actually do embark on implementing those measures and expanding their social protection systems – what we see there is that is also very much a question of political will,” she said.
The International Labor Organization report calls for universal health coverage. It says more than 90-percent of the population in low-income countries is “without any right to coverage in health.” But Behrendt said more countries are starting to act.
“For example, Thailand within the space of a couple of years was able to achieve universal health coverage. China recently has really taken bold steps to extend health coverage. And, of course, the U.S. also on a very different level has also moved into that direction. And we know that this is really a very important component of any social protection system because the need to have access to health care is really what affects people very immediately.”
The ILO also reported a lack of maternity protection. It said that worldwide, less than 40-percent of working women are covered by law under mandatory cash benefit plans. As for children, the report said that about “18,000 die every day, mainly from preventable causes. It says many of those deaths could be avoided with adequate social protections.
The ILO proposes that basic social protections should be part of any post-Millennium Development Goals agenda.