Hardly Anyone Is Too Poor to Share

Author:Michael Cichon

A basic level of social protection is affordable nearly everywhere


Hardly Anyone Is Too Poor to Share A basic level of social protection is affordable nearly everywhere

Michael Cichon

"The world does not lack the resources to abolish poverty, it lacks the right priorities. " So said Juan Somavía, former director general of the International Labour Organization (ILO), in 1999.

We may have made progress in recent decades, but the world remains a miserable place for more than half of its population. Each person in that majority suffers from at least one of three human-made or at least human-tolerated societal plagues: gross inequality, debilitating insecurity, and inhumane poverty. We have known for more than a century what can be done to make things better. Social protection effectively and swiftly reduces inequality and poverty through transfers in cash and kind. A solid basic level of social protection is affordable and implementable nearly everywhere. It can be achieved now or—at least after some investment in good governance—fairly soon.

For decades, the community of nations has had a global ethical compass when it comes to social protection. Since the ILO’s 1944 recommendations on income security and medical care—and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—social protection has been recognized as a human right. More recently, the ILO’s 2012 Recommendation R202 concerning national social protection floors and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at a United Nations summit in 2015, have given concrete content to the right to social protection.

R202 provides guidance on introducing basic social protection, defining the twin objectives of income and health security as the ability to access all essential goods and services. This requires a balance of cash and direct provision of services. The overriding objective is to achieve universal protection for all who need it.

The SDGs likewise pursue a broad agenda including social transfers, health care, education, and other essential services. The main social protection targets are to "implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all’’ and to "achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection.’’

What has kept us from making greater progress toward social justice?

Publicly financed social protection transfers were often portrayed as unsustainable and detrimental to economic development. Many societies’ and governments’ economic and development strategies were based on economic myths—among them...

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