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Social Protection is a Human Right for All

In the 21st century Progressives stand for social justice and equality to make the world a better world where wealth is equally distributed.

However the reality is that over 80 per cent of the world’s population have no social security and no income in the event of a personal or economic crisis. Over half of the world’s population live in, or are at risk from, grinding poverty; millions of children die each year from preventable causes; millions of older people are threatened by poverty, destitution and disease. The effects of the global economic crisis have highlighted the social and economic insecurity afflicting broad sections of the population. Inequality is on the increase in many parts of the world and the measures taken to counteract it are either slow or fall short of the mark. This situation is not inescapable, however. It can be remedied by resolute common action.

Recent years have seen social protest and unrest all over the world. The movements this has triggered may be different but they have one thing in common. At the core of the dispute is the development of democracy and social justice. The social question is back on the global agenda.

Urgent social problems have even resulted in the toppling of long-standing authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. Here, in particular, social inequality – along with the issue of democracy – has been one of the main causes for the overthrow of governments in recent years. In most countries in the region, significant revenues and government transfer payments, mostly from the Gulf States but also from Western countries, together with a neo-liberal economic program have enabled government elites and their business cronies to systematically line their pockets over the years, while the vast majority of the population has been left to eke out a life in poverty. Corruption and nepotism, coupled with autocratic regimes, have excluded large parts of the population from participation in political and economic life. The absence of any active labour market policy and the lack of social security are among the main reasons for a sense of injustice and exclusion. In many places hopes of social advance through education have been dashed. This applies to a very great extent to young people in the region who have cited dissatisfaction and a desire for greater social and economic participation as being among the root causes of the upheavals. A large percentage of Arab populations, e.g. in Tunisia and Egypt, are under the age of 35 and only knew the regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak before their governments were toppled. A sustainable democratic process will only prove a success if it goes hand in hand with improvements in the social situation of many people. Hence in many places there is a need for a new social contract, which not only renews people’s trust in the government, but also establishes a positive basic relationship in the first place.

However, times of crisis can only turn into times of awakening if processes of social learning are set in train and political mentalities change as alternatives take shape and are recognised. We must not be paralysed by these enormous challenges. On the contrary, we must overcome speechlessness and formulate the concrete opportunities for change. Criticism may be rife, but there is also potential for solidarity and emancipation in our societies. So it is all the more important that parties, trade unions and civil society organisations should take up the momentum and press ahead with the discussion and the development of alternatives. There is a need for practical solutions to the current problems, which also point the way forward and lay the foundations for societies in which there is greater social justice.

Social protection is one of the most important foundations for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. It is both a major factor in a strategy for sustainable growth and a safeguard against personal and social crises. For a long time the international community failed to focus greater attention on the human right to social security. In the wake of the global economic and financial crisis the issue of social security has found its way back to the top of the international agenda; wherever social security systems were already in place, they were regarded as a key element in combating the crisis. This fact was also recognised by the G20.

The social protection floor concept presented by the ILO in 2009 has gained in significance in the past few years both at the international level and in the national context. An initial milestone was the acceptance of the social protection floor recommendation adopted at the 2012 International Labour Conference in Geneva. The voluntary commitment on the part of the 185 ILO member states offers an outstanding opportunity for the global promotion of social justice through the installation and extension of social security systems. The aim is to build up social protection for all citizens, but in particular for the weakest members of society and for those working in the informal economy. The introduction of basic protection schemes promotes social justice by reducing poverty, providing access to health care, fostering gender equality and improving educational opportunities for children.

The recommendation provides that national social protection floors should comprise basic social security guarantees for:

  • access to a set of goods and services, constituting essential health care, including maternity care, that meets the criteria of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality; provide universal affordable access to housing and such basic, but essential life supporting commodities as water and electricity.
  • basic income security at least at a nationally defined minimum level :
    •  for children, providing access to nutrition, education, care and any other necessary goods and services;
    • for persons in active age who are unable to earn sufficient income, in particular in cases of sickness, unemployment, maternity and disability; and for the elderly.

The establishment of social protection floors in areas where there is no social security or only inadequate provision represents an important first step on the path to more comprehensive social security systems.

Social protection floors are not the end point of social security. Rather they lay the foundation for the gradual introduction and extension of social security systems.

Social protection floors are a realistic political option for numerous countries enabling them to build up a system of basic social protection, which is borne by all sections of society and in the medium term not only protects individuals against social risks but also reduces inequality.

Social protection floors are a first concrete step on the road to more equitable societies and they must be followed by others. As progressive forces we strive to ensure that all our action at national, regional and international levels are aimed at strengthening the social protection net.

Our ultimate aim remains to lift our citizens out of the poverty trap and to build socially fair and just societies

Social security for old people, the sick, children and members of society who are unable to work is the basis for social cohesion.

Social security is the basis for political participation.

Social security is the basis for economic and democratic development.

Social Protection is a Human Right.