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More than 4 billion people still lack any social protection, ILO report finds
by ILO, OHCHR, Global Coalition for Social Protection
Sep. 2021
More than 4 billion people still lack any social protection, ILO report finds
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the social protection gap between countries with high and low income levels.
Despite the unprecedented worldwide expansion of social protection during the COVID-19 crisis, more than 4 billion people around the world remain entirely unprotected, a new International Labour Organization (ILO) report says.
It finds that the pandemic response was uneven and insufficient, deepening the gap between countries with high and low income levels and failing to afford the much-needed social protection that all human beings deserve.
Social protection includes access to health care and income security, particularly in relation to old age, unemployment, sickness, disability, work injury, maternity or loss of a main income earner, as well as for families with children.
“Countries are at a crossroads,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder. “This is a pivotal moment to harness the pandemic response to build a new generation of rights-based social protection systems. These can cushion people from future crises and give workers and businesses the security to tackle the multiple transitions ahead with confidence and with hope. We must recognize that effective and comprehensive social protection is not just essential for social justice and decent work but for creating a sustainable and resilient future too.”
The World Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at the crossroads – in pursuit of a better future gives a global overview of recent developments in social protection systems, including social protection floors, and covers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report identifies protection gaps and sets out key policy recommendations, including in relation to the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Currently, only 47 per cent of the global population are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit, while 4.1 billion people (53 per cent) obtain no income security at all from their national social protection system.
There are significant regional inequalities in social protection. Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with 84 per cent of people being covered by at least one benefit. The Americas are also above the global average, with 64.3 per cent. Asia and the Pacific (44 per cent), the Arab States (40 per cent) and Africa (17.4 per cent) have marked coverage gaps.
Worldwide, the vast majority of children still have no effective social protection coverage – only one in four children (26.4 per cent) receives a social protection benefit. Only 45 per cent of women with newborns worldwide receive a cash maternity benefit. Only one in three persons with severe disabilities (33.5 per cent) worldwide receive a disability benefit.
Coverage of unemployment benefits is even lower; only 18.6 per cent of unemployed workers worldwide are effectively covered. And while 77.5 per cent of people above retirement age receive some form of old-age pension, major disparities remain across regions, between rural and urban areas, and between women and men.
Government spending on social protection also varies significantly. On average, countries spend 12.8 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection (excluding health), however high-income countries spend 16.4 per cent and low-income countries only 1.1 per cent of their GDP on social protection.
The report says that the financing gap (the additional spending required to ensure at least minimum social protection for all) has increased by approximately 30 per cent since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
To guarantee at least basic social protection coverage, low-income countries would need to invest an additional US$77.9 billion per year, lower-middle-income countries an additional US$362.9 billion per year and upper-middle-income countries a further US$750.8 billion per year. That’s equivalent to 15.9, 5.1 and 3.1 per cent of their GDP, respectively.
“There is an enormous push for countries to move to fiscal consolidation, after the massive public expenditure of their crisis response measures, but it would be seriously damaging to cut back on social protection; investment is required here and now,” said Shahra Razavi, Director, ILO Social Protection Department.
“Social protection is an important tool that can create wide-ranging social and economic benefits for countries at all levels of development. It can underpin better health and education, greater equality, more sustainable economic systems, better managed migration and the observance of core rights. Building the systems that can deliver these positive outcomes will require a mix of financing sources and greater international solidarity, particularly with support for poorer countries. But the benefits of success will reach beyond national borders to benefit us all,” she said.
Specific measures to promote universal social protection were highlighted in the Global Call to Action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic . The Call to Action, which outlines a comprehensive agenda for recovery, was endorsed unanimously in June 2021 by the ILO’s Member States, representing governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations.
July 2021
Countries must prepare for future crises by setting up a Global Fund for Social Protection, a new international financing mechanism that will help protect their populations from the next pandemic, says a new report presented by Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on poverty, before the Human Rights Council.
“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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Environmental crisis: High Commissioner calls for leadership by Human Rights Council member states
by Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Sep. 2021
A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is the foundation of human life. But today, because of human action – and inhuman inaction – the triple planetary crises of climate change, pollution, and nature loss is directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself.
Recent months have unleashed extreme and murderous climate events on people in every region: monumental fires in Siberia and California; huge sudden floods in China, Germany and Turkey; Arctic heatwaves leading to unprecedented methane emissions; and the persistence of interminable drought, from Morocco and Senegal to Siberia, potentially forcing millions of people into misery, hunger and displacement.
Meanwhile, pollution – which is fuelled by the same patterns of unsustainable consumption and production as climate change – is generating an estimated 1 in 6 of all premature deaths, while the extinction crisis also creates devastating impacts on human rights and ways of life.
The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers – amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations. As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era.
All this is now painfully clear. The greatest uncertainty about these challenges is what policy-makers will do about them.
In Madagascar, hundreds of thousands of people are facing extreme hunger after four years without rainfall, leading the World Food Programme to warn of "the world’s first climate change-induced famine". At least 1.14 million people in the Southern region are in need of emergency food, and this crisis for Madagascar’s people and its development is expected to further deteriorate.
The humanitarian emergency in Sahel countries is also fuelled by climate change, which according to last month's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been more severe and rapid across Africa than elsewhere. Increasing desertification; long droughts followed by flash-floods; and unequal access to natural resources amplify existing vulnerabilities, especially food insecurity.
Compounded by weak governance of natural resources; long-standing patterns of poverty and inequalities; inadequate access to basic services; and high rates of youth unemployment and discrimination against minorities, women and girls, these trends compel people into displacement, aggravate conflicts and political instability, and fuel recruitment by violent extremist groups.
In such a situation it should be clear that there can be no purely military solution to the conflicts in the region.
To date, four million people across the Sahel have been displaced, according to UNHCR estimates, and the humanitarian emergency is becoming "an exceptional crisis", according to OCHA.
Sustaining peace requires human rights-based approaches. To assist such responses, the Office is implementing a project in the Sahel region, with a specific focus on Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria, that seeks to identify protection gaps faced by communities affected by climate change and migration, strengthening the capacity of local, national and regional stakeholders to identify measures that will fulfill the rights of these communities.
In Mauritania, this includes engagement with migrant families who fled floods and landslides in Sierra Leone in 2017, and fishing communities who have moved from Senegal due to diminishing fish stocks.
In Niger, we are working with a rural community that has seen exceptional numbers of migrants departing; while in Nigeria, we are seeking solutions in locations that are simultaneously sites of origin, transit, and destination for migrants moving in response to extreme weather events, degraded lands, and resource-driven conflicts.
It is urgent in this context that the States currently negotiating the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework integrate explicit commitments to human rights-based approaches to biodiversity action.
Countries in Central Asia are also particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events, whose impacts are amplified by shortfalls in human rights protection.
Water shortages are currently leading to insufficient irrigation and loss of crops, damaging food security. The impact on people in situations of poverty is magnified by inadequate public participation in decision-making, in particular, at the local level; insufficient State support to farmers, including in strategic planning efforts at central, local and self-government levels; and weak accountability for rural development and risk response.
Affected people routinely face challenges in accessing social protection and other public services and communicating their needs.
These factors are all entry points for policy reforms that could make a transformative difference for the lives and hopes of millions of people across the region – helping to resolve grievances and keeping communities and societies on track to fulfill the SDGs.
Displacement due to environmental disaster is a particularly serious phenomenon in Asia, where the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has reported that in 2019, China, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines witnessed more disaster displacement than all other countries combined – amounting to 70 per cent of the global total.
Last month's IPCC report presents a troubling forecast for South Asia in particular.
In Bangladesh, one report has estimated that by 2050, 17% of the country will be submerged by rising sea levels, depriving 20 million people of their homes.
The Maldives, with over 80 per cent of its land area less than one meter above sea level, is already experiencing severe harms which will only get worse as sea-levels rise.
Moreover, across much of South East Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, forecasts indicate that by 2050 daily high tides could flood areas where over 48 million people now live, while annual flooding would on average affect the homes of over 79 million people.
Access to water is particularly threatened in the Middle East and North Africa. Immediate action should be taken for more sustainable environmental and resource management policies to address this persistent issue. With rainfall in the region projected to decline by 20 to 40 per cent in a world that is 2°C hotter – and up to 60 per cent if warming reaches 4°C – this is a major, long-term challenge.
Forecasts of this gravity and impact – including on displacement – cannot be ignored by any policy-maker, anywhere. They will have cascading economic, social, cultural and political effects that will impact every society in the world.
Our Regional Office in the Pacific has been alerting stakeholders about the need for immediate global, regional and national climate action, including stronger work to protect the most vulnerable. We have also undertaken joint efforts through the Pacific Climate Change Migration Human Security programme, which aims to support a new Pacific regional policy framework for climate change-induced mobility – whether internal displacement or migration across borders, compelled or by choice.
I encourage all countries of the region, notably member states of the Pacific Island Forum, to support development of a regional human rights-based framework for climate mobility with UN assistance.
The Central American “Dry Corridor”, or Corredor Seco region – particularly in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – is a striking example of the impact of climate change on poverty, displacement and fundamental human rights. Declining rainfalls and increasing hurricanes are creating a fast-moving humanitarian crisis. According to OCHA, almost 8 million people are estimated to be acutely food-insecure in 2021 in northern Central America, and nearly 8.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – a 60% increase since the beginning of 2020.
The World Bank has suggested that if no action is taken to prevent the effects of climate change, 3.9 million people in Central America and Mexico could be forced to leave their homes by 2050.
Restoring the ecosystems of the Dry Corridor and recognizing the rights of its inhabitants will support livelihoods and help prevent displacement. In Honduras, my Office has supported efforts by the Reitoca community to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights in the face of severe impacts from climate change and drought.
In Guatemala my Office has inter alia supported the ratification and implementation of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, which entered into force in April and commits States to protect environmental human rights defenders and the right to a healthy environment.
When people are forced to move because their environment can no longer support a life with dignity, pushing them to return to such a situation is not only unprincipled – it is completely unsustainable. Along with adopting rights-based approaches to internal displacement, I urge all countries to work together to expand pathways for safe and regular migration for people who are compelled to leave their countries in the context of environmental degradation.
Humanitarian visas should be considered when adaptation in countries of origin is not possible; any returns must comply with the principle of non-refoulement, and should be guided by voluntariness, safety and sustainability.
The Human Rights Council's Resolution 40/11 powerfully recognizes the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development. But in many regions, environmental human rights defenders are threatened, harassed and even killed, often with complete impunity.
In several countries, it appears that economic shifts resulting from the pandemic have prompted increased exploitation of mineral resources, forests and land – and concomitant threats. At the greatest risk of abuse and violence are indigenous peoples – whose rights, traditional knowledge and practices are critical to global efforts to address environmental degradation – and young women and girls who seek to defend environmental rights.
In Brazil, I am alarmed by recent attacks against members of the Yanomami and Munduruku peoples by illegal miners in the Amazon. Attempts to legalize the entry of businesses into indigenous territories, and limit the demarcation of indigenous lands – notably via a draft law that is under consideration in the House of Representatives – are also of serious concern.
I urge the authorities to reverse policies that negatively affect indigenous peoples, and to refrain from withdrawing from ILO Convention 169, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention.
My Office is also concerned about new draft anti-terrorism legislation in Brazil that includes excessively vague and broad provisions which pose risks of abuse, particularly against social activists and human rights defenders.
As in many other countries, environmental human rights defenders in several South-East Asian States continue to face criminalization, harassment, surveillance and other undue restrictions of their rights. Environmental activists have been detained for protesting land concessions that result in massive deforestation to accommodate corporate agriculture.
Many concerns are related to longstanding structural, institutional, and legal challenges in the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. Even where Governments have sought to preserve forests, these efforts have frequently fallen short of the sustainable and human rights-based conservation which is needed.
Addressing the world's triple environmental crisis is a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative. It is also doable.
Combatting and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic will require billions of dollars to be spent on rebuilding and supporting national economies. Policy choices can direct that spending into new, green directions that tackle inequalities and stimulate innovative environmental solutions that also uphold and promote human rights.
Indeed, several States have issued significant new climate commitments in recent months. And, in June, the European Union adopted a new Climate Law that creates a legal obligation to attain climate neutrality by 2050, and requires a 55% reduction of EU-wide greenhouse gas emissions from their 1990 levels.
In itself, this will not be easy: it means EU countries must reduce emissions in the next 8 years by more than was achieved in the previous three decades. And to limit global heating to 1.5° Celsius, even more ambitious action still will be required.
Investing in a just recovery can make a critical contribution to shaping a healthy future. But this is a shift that unfortunately is not being consistently and robustly undertaken. I deeply regret that according to a recent study by the IMF, UNEP and others, only 18.0% of the pandemic recovery spending announced by the world's 50 largest economies can be considered ‘green.’
Through the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and other instruments, States have united behind a transformative vision for people-centered sustainable development, yet many have consistently failed to fund and implement it.
We must set the bar higher – indeed, our common future depends on it. My Office is developing new guidelines for human rights-based approaches to recovery, conservation and climate finance, and is working with member States to support a just transition to a sustainable, human rights based economy.
Environmental damage usually hurts most those who are least protected – the poorest and most marginalized people, and the poorest nations, which often have the least capacity to respond. According to a study by the World Meteorological Organisation, more than two thirds of deaths from weather- and water-related disasters since 1970 have been in least developed countries.
A report issued by UNICEF last month found that the 33 countries at ‘extremely high-risk’ for climate and environmental hazards such as air pollution, heatwaves or drought collectively emit just 9 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions – but almost half the world's 2.2 billion children live there.
Historical exploitation and decades of unsustainable economic practises by actors in developed countries largely underpin these realities. Therefore, six years ago in Paris, States reaffirmed that developed countries should provide developing economies with greater financial and technical assistance for climate action. This is also key to SDG 17, on revitalising global partnership.
States’ human rights obligations require them to cooperate toward the progressive realization of human rights globally, and this clearly should include adequate financing by those who can best afford it of climate change mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.
At the COP26 climate negotiations, my Office and many partners will be strongly advocating more ambitious, rights-based and inclusive climate action – and I particularly urge the Council's Member States to demonstrate leadership in this respect.
Nor can we overlook the heightened risk exposure of women and girls to climate and environmental harms has also been economically, socially and culturally constructed over decades and generations. Coupled with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNDP assesses that, by the end of this year there will be 118 women aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty for every 100 men – and by 2030 that will increase to 121 women living in extreme poverty for every 100 men. This is intolerable by any human rights measures.
Human rights law protects the rights to participation, access to information and access to justice. It guarantees all people the rights to benefit from science and its applications, and to share equitably in the benefits of development, and it requires we protect the basic conditions necessary for life – including a safe and stable climate, clean air and water, healthy biodiversity and ecosystems; and a non-toxic environment.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is grounded in human rights, is a roadmap for solutions that can help to heal our planet and ensure that humanity can thrive.
The Secretary General’s Call to Action for Human Rights commits all UN bodies to work together to assist States to address these and other crucial issues for our environment.. We will also continue our work to help States advance a human rights economy that invests in health, social protection and other core economic and social rights, and supports sustainable development to benefit people and their planet.
And we will further strengthen our work on business and human rights at the regional and country levels, working with businesses and affected stakeholders to build capacity to address risks to people from harmful business activities, including those related to climate change and environmental degradation..

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