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Social protection is a universal human right and a precondition for a world free from poverty
by ILO, UNICEF, Coalition for Social Protection
9:53am 3rd Mar, 2023
Mar. 2023
Number of children without critical social protection increasing globally: ILO–UNICEF joint report
The number of children without access to social protection is increasing year-on-year, leaving them at risk of poverty, hunger and discrimination, according to a new report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF today.
More than a billion reasons: The urgent need to build universal social protection for children warns that an additional 50 million children aged 0-15 missed out on a critical social protection provision – specifically, child benefits (paid in cash or tax credits) – between 2016 and 2020, driving up the total to 1.46 billion children under 15 globally.
According to the report, child and family benefit coverage rates fell or stagnated in every region in the world between 2016 and 2020, leaving no country on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving substantial social protection coverage by 2030. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, coverage fell significantly from approximately 51 per cent to 42 per cent.
In many other regions, coverage has stalled and remains low. In Central Asia and Southern Asia; Eastern Asia and South-eastern Asia; Sub-Saharan Africa; and Western Asia and Northern Africa coverage rates have been at around 21 per cent, 14 per cent, 11 per cent and 28 per cent respectively since 2016.
Failure to provide children with adequate social protection leaves them vulnerable to poverty, disease, missed education, and poor nutrition, and increases their risk of child marriage and child labour.
Globally, children are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty – those struggling to survive on less than US$1.90 (PPP) a day – approximately 356 million children. A billion children also live in multidimensional poverty – meaning without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water.
Children living in multidimensional poverty increased by 15 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, reversing previous progress in reducing child poverty and highlighting the urgent need for social protection.
“As families face increasing economic hardship, food insecurity, conflict, and climate-related disasters, universal child benefits can be a lifeline,” said Natalia Winder-Rossi, UNICEF Director of Social Policy and Social Protection.
“There is an urgent need to strengthen, expand and invest in child-friendly and shock-responsive social protection systems. This is essential to protect children from living in poverty and increase resilience particularly among the poorest households.”
“Strengthened efforts to ensure adequate investment in universal social protection for children, through universal child benefits to support families at all times, is the ethical and rational choice, and the one that paves the way to sustainable development and social justice,” said Shahra Razavi, Director of the Social Protection Department at the ILO.
Social protection is a universal human right and a precondition for a world free from poverty. It is also a vital foundation to help the world’s most vulnerable children fulfil their potential and increase their access to food, nutrition, education, and healthcare.
But worldwide, 1.77 billion children aged 0–18 lack access to a child or family cash benefit, a fundamental pillar of a social protection system. Children are twice as likely to live in extreme poverty as adults. 800 million children are currently subsisting below a poverty line of US$3.20 a day, and 1.3 billion children are living on less than US$5.50 a day.
The report emphasizes that all countries, irrespective of their level of development, have a choice: whether to pursue a “high-road” strategy of investment in reinforcing social protection systems, or a “low-road” strategy that misses out on necessary investments and will leave millions of children behind.
To reverse the negative trend, the ILO and UNICEF urge policymakers to take decisive steps to attain universal social protection for all children, including:
Investing in child benefits which offer a proven and cost-effective way to combat child poverty and ensure children thrive.
Providing a comprehensive range of child benefits through national social protection systems that also connect families to crucial health and social services, such as free or affordable high-quality childcare.
Building social protection systems that are rights-based, gender-responsive, inclusive, and shock responsive to address inequities and deliver better results for girls and women, migrant children, and children in child labour for example.
Securing sustainable financing for social protection systems by mobilizing domestic resources and increasing budget allocation for children.
Strengthening social protection for parents and caregivers by guaranteeing access to decent work and adequate benefits, including unemployment, sickness, maternity, disability, and pensions.
* The urgent need to build universal social protection for children; ILO–UNICEF joint report (136pp):
Feb. 2023
Inequality is a barrier to social justice. (ILO)
A combination of mutually-reinforcing crises – inflation, debt, food and fuel price rises, geopolitical tensions and conflict, climate change are increasing poverty, inequality and discrimination worldwide.
Around the world people are struggling to recover from the socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated lives and deepened inequalities.
Women’s share of total incomes from work is less than 35 per cent, just a five per cent rise relative to 1990. 214 million workers live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.90 a day, and the number of working poor is increasing in developing countries.
Far too many people are forced to eke out a living on less than $2.00 a day without rights and social protection and little prospects for a better future.
Poverty and inequalities within and among countries are on the rise in many parts of the world. Inequality remains very high, with annual gross domestic product per capita ranging from about $600 at purchasing power parity in the poorest country to more than $115,000 in the richest country.
The top 10 per cent of the global population currently takes 52 per cent of global income, whereas the poorest half earns 6.5 per cent of it.
Some 290 million young people globally are not in education, employment, or training, while two billion people work in the informal economy. Unstable jobs and income, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and no social protection led to a disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these workers that saw their earnings drop by 60 per cent in 2020.
The world needs a strong and sustained dose of social justice says ILO's Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo:
"We have the 5%, 10% of the richest in the world that sees their wealth keep growing. Then on the other hand, when you talk about 50% of the world's population with zero social protection, you have more than 200 million people, workers that are remaining poor despite 40 hours of work. They cannot secure a $1.90 per day. Working poverty, the working poor.
With COVID, I remember very well, how striking it was when we, that were living in this part of the world were vaccinated at the rate of 70%. When I called my family back home in Togo, the vaccination was maybe at 5%.
It's important to bring social justice back on the front line. The very important thing is really fighting against inequalities, discrimination, ensuring every human being should have same opportunity. Having decent work and dignifying work, people are not asking more than that. Having a minimum protection, what the ILO calls the social protection floors, is part of the social justice.
Let's be very clear. Social justice goes beyond ILO mandate. The right to food security. The right to health. Access to water and sanitation, access to education, having the freedom, the voice to express what one feels, or work safely. I can go on. Gender equality and inclusion. The right to social protection.
Essentially, we need to ensure that our life, our social contracts are balanced, that we don't create too much inequalities. What's the value of making financial progress just to end up by fueling 5% of the richest and having the majority of people still in the dark?"
Feb. 2023 (UN WebTV)
Promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its resolution 49/19, the UN Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene a three-day workshop to bring together key stakeholders for a discussion on practical ways to further enhance and strengthen the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch video sessions from the 3 day workshop:
Jan. 2023
On the Road to 2025: A New Social Contract with Universal Social Protection and Full Employment and Decent Work for all.
The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) welcomes the theme of the 61st Session of the UN Commission on Social Development: ‘Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’
The realization of this optimistic theme presumes a conducive socio-political-economic-human rights informed environment. The reality is that the global community is living through very turbulent times with ‘code red’ alarm bells sounding for the very survival of the planet.
The ongoing economic effects of COVID-19, increasing hunger, ongoing war, displacement of people, and climate change, coupled with runaway inflation, are entrenching more and more people in poverty and further increasing inequality. This current situation has knocked us off track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The recent report in the Third Committee by Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, highlighted povertyism” and “negative attitudes and behaviours towards people living in poverty that restrict people’s access to employment, housing, health care, education and social protection - the very tools put in place to support them out of poverty.”
Commitment 3 of the Copenhagen Declaration and Platform for Action (1995): ‘promoting the goal of full employment as a basic priority of our economic and social policies, and enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen productive employment and work’, has failed miserably in the context of the global reality twenty-eight years later.
One of the main reasons for this failure has been the lack of critical analysis of the impacts of dominant systems and structures and how these actually facilitate exploitation, perpetuate inequality, ignore human rights violations, and exclude people in poverty from having equal access and opportunity.
Power imbalances, and unexamined systems and structures are the carriers and drivers of much of the inequality and injustice experienced in today's world. Decision making at the financial, corporate and business levels have not incorporated moral and ethical considerations.
A paradigm shift is required from long-established sets of concepts, mindsets and ‘business as usual’ approaches that have informed and shaped policies in the past but are now contributing to and exacerbating gross inequalities, while normalizing exploitation and violating workers’ rights and human rights.
Alongside the technological and scientific developments, we need a corresponding shift in consciousness at the individual, corporate, societal and governmental levels- a shift informed by moral and ethical principles that are inclusive and life enhancing for all people and the planet.
The Copenhagen Declaration, with its principles, ten commitments and platform for action, is informed by moral and ethical principles. The same moral and ethical compass guided the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDGs 1, 5, 8 and 10 are at the centre and aim to promote inclusion and reduce inequalities.
While the implementation of Social Protection including floors had been gaining traction prior to the pandemic, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Flagship Report, Social Protection Report 2020-22, underlines the fact that COVID-19 provoked an unparalleled social protection policy response to protect people’s health, jobs and incomes, and to ensure social stability.
It further states that establishing universal social protection and realizing the human right to social security for all is the cornerstone of a human-centred approach to obtaining social justice. Doing so contributes to preventing poverty, containing inequality, and enhancing human capabilities and productivity. Social Protection also fosters human dignity, solidarity and fairness, and reinvigorates the social contract.
Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all is integral to an ethical and moral vision. However, the informality of work appears to be growing worldwide and becoming the new normal, with over sixty percent of the global workforce supporting themselves in this way, hoping to meet their basic daily needs without health coverage, social insurance, or access to maternity or sick leave. In Africa this figure can be as high as eighty percent.
Further, these informal workers do not have voice and representation for their interests, and are often prohibited from unionizing. While this has been the norm in emerging economies, today the trend is on the rise in more developed and globalized economies, in the form of deregulation, outsourcing, and flex and temp work. All of this erodes the dignity of the person and violates human rights and opportunities for decent work conditions.
The globalized nature of finance, investment and business ventures is facilitating this erosion with exploitative practices against people and the planet itself.
The ILO has long sought to implement a decent work agenda, stressing that a transition to the formal economy is a pre-condition to realize decent work for all. A specific statistical indicator, SDG 8.3.1, on moving from an informal economy, seeks to measure efforts towards formalization of the economy.
The expert group meeting papers, in preparation for the Commission for Social Development 61st Session, outlined the many variations and complexities within the informal economy and how it is now imperative that Member States tackle the issue and formalize decent work.
An ILO Publication ‘Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture’ by Florence Bonnet, Vicky Leung and Juan Chacaltana note that poverty is a cause and consequence of informality - people in poverty face higher rates of informality, and there are higher poverty rates among workers in informal employment compared to workers in formal employment.
Women are doubly exploited - firstly within the informal economy, and secondly with the burden of unpaid care work undertaken in the family and community.
‘Creating employment and decent work in new and growing sectors: Care Economy’, a presentation by Dipa Sinha, points to the unpaid nature of much care work, and to the informality that exists in the sector. The care economy is growing with increasing demand for childcare and care for older persons in all regions.
While this sector is characterized by lack of benefits and protections, extremely low wages or non-compensation, and exposure to physical, mental and, in some cases, sexual harm, it has the potential to be reorganized and set within in a decent work agenda.
It is clear that new solutions to the provision of care are needed on two fronts: in regards to the nature and provision of care policies and services, and in the terms and conditions of care work.
The multiple and complex challenges being surfaced during the review on informality can be addressed through the launch of global social dialogues that require a whole of government and whole of society approach in elucidating and defining a new social contract. This new contract requires a moral and ethical foundation upholding the dignity of the person, all human rights, and care for the Earth.
Strong political will favouring inclusion, sustainability and accountability principles is called for, with zero tolerance of criminality, exploitative practices and human rights violations.
The words of Mahatma Gandhi, “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed”, provide an opening statement for promoting global social dialogues.
Ensure Universal Social Protection as a right for every person. Governments and the international community will ensure that the budgetary resources to finance adequate social protection floors are guaranteed everywhere on the basis of national and, if necessary, international solidarity.
Accelerate the shift from informality to formality with full recognition and acceptance of the four pillars of decent work: promoting jobs and enterprise, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection, and promoting social dialogue. These pillars are basic to the inclusion of all, particularly people in informal work.
Hold Governments and all employers accountable for every infringement of worker rights, including the exploitative engagement of child laborers.
Engage a whole of Government and whole of society approach in the lead up to a second social summit – a summit that enhances the principles and commitments of the Copenhagen Declaration, and provide a relevant strategic framework for the transformation of systems, structures and gender relations towards a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable way of relating with one another and the planet.
End conflicts and war, which generate enormous profits for those who engage in the arms trade. Instead, invest in enhancing the well-being of people and planet through financing universal social protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and loss and damage.
Jan. 2023
Children continue to face wildly differentiating chances of survival based on where they are born - UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality
An estimated 5 million children died before their fifth birthday and another 2.1 million children and youth aged between 5–24 years lost their lives in 2021, according to the latest estimates released by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).
In a separate report also released today, the group found that 1.9 million babies were stillborn during the same period. Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health care.
“Every day, far too many parents are facing the trauma of losing their children, sometimes even before their first breath,” said Vidhya Ganesh, UNICEF Director of the Division of Data Analytics, Planning and Monitoring. “Such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable. Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary health care for every woman and child.”
The reports show some positive outcomes with a lower risk of death across all ages globally since 2000. The global under-five mortality rate fell by 50 per cent since the start of the century, while mortality rates in older children and youth dropped by 36 per cent, and the stillbirth rate decreased by 35 per cent. This can be attributed to more investments in strengthening primary health systems to benefit women, children and young people.
However, gains have reduced significantly since 2010, and 54 countries will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality. If swift action is not taken to improve health services, warn the agencies, almost 59 million children and youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth.
“It is grossly unjust that a child’s chances of survival can be shaped just by their place of birth, and that there are such vast inequities in their access to lifesaving health services,” said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Children everywhere need strong primary health care systems that meet their needs and those of their families, so that – no matter where they are born – they have the best start and hope for the future.”
Children continue to face wildly differentiating chances of survival based on where they are born, with sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia shouldering the heaviest burden, the reports show. Though sub-Saharan Africa had just 29 per cent of global live births, the region accounted for 56 per cent of all under-five deaths in 2021, and Southern Asia for 26 per cent of the total. Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are subject to the highest risk of childhood death in the world – 15 times higher than the risk for children in Europe and Northern America.
Mothers in these two regions also endure the painful loss of babies to stillbirth at an exceptional rate, with 77 per cent of all stillbirths in 2021 occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Nearly half of all stillbirths happened in sub-Saharan Africa. The risk of a woman having a stillborn baby in sub-Saharan Africa is seven times more likely than in Europe and North America.
“Behind these numbers are millions of children and families who are denied their basic rights to health,” said Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank and Director of the Global Financing Facility. “We need political will and leadership for sustained financing for primary health care which is one of the best investments countries and development partners can make.”
Access to and availability of quality health care continues to be a matter of life or death for children globally. Most child deaths occur in the first five years, of which half are within the very first month of life. For these youngest babies, premature birth and complications during labour are the leading causes of death. Similarly, more than 40 per cent of stillbirths occur during labour – most of which are preventable when women have access to quality care throughout pregnancy and birth. For children that survive past their first 28 days, infectious diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria pose the biggest threat.
While COVID-19 has not directly increased childhood mortality – with children facing a lower likelihood of dying from the disease than adults – the pandemic may have increased future risks to their survival. In particular, the reports highlight concerns around disruptions to vaccination campaigns, nutrition services, and access to primary health care, which could jeopardize their health and well-being for many years to come. In addition, the pandemic has fuelled the largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades, putting the most vulnerable newborns and children at greater risk of dying from preventable diseases.
The reports also note gaps in data, which could critically undermine the impact of policies and programmes designed to improve childhood survival and well-being.

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