People living in the world’s poorest countries, who are particularly at risk of poverty, cannot wait until it becomes possible to provide stable financing for social protection programmes from domestic resources alone. They need such protection right now, especially in light of the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As is well documented, the Covid-19 outbreak has sparked fears of an impending economic crisis and recession of unprecedented proportions.
The rippling effects are already being felt across various spheres, as restrictions such as physical distancing, self-isolation and travel bans have led to a reduced workforce across economic sectors and job losses. No sector has been left unscathed, and countries across the world are grappling with ways to respond to the scourge.
Wherever lockdown measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus, people are no longer able to work, or not work at full capacity.
The crisis has not only posed huge challenges to health and economic systems around the world. It has also led to a renewed risk of millions of people falling below the poverty line. In the midst of this, well-functioning social protection systems are needed to provide at least partial compensation for the associated loss of income.
Across the globe, governments have made efforts to provide additional social benefits to those parts of their populations most affected by the pandemic. Numerous such measures have also been taken on the African continent. But for some countries, it is extremely difficult to mobilise sufficient domestic resources to help people cope with economic and social hardship, for example through additional or expanded cash transfer and cash-for-work programmes, or the restructuring of school feeding programmes.
For some time now, there has been the idea of setting up an international fund to provide low-income countries with financial assistance that they need in times of crisis, such as the current pandemic, to keep their social protection systems functioning.
The proposal to set up such a fund, put forward by UN Special Rapporteurs Olivier de Schutter and Magdalena Sepulveda almost 10 years ago, has now been taken up by the French government. It will be the subject of this year’s discussions at the G20, the group of major industrialised and emerging economies, and the UN Human Rights Council. The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, an international civil society alliance that includes many African organisations, recently issued an appeal supporting this initiative.
What exactly does the idea of such a new Global Fund stand for? Its main task would be to temporarily contribute to the financing of basic social protection systems (“social protection floors”) if low-income countries do not have sufficient financial resources of their own (especially tax revenues) for such systems.
According to the Social Protection Floor Index, it is currently mainly some African countries that would have to devote a particularly large proportion of their GDP to this if they wanted to ensure essential healthcare and basic income security for all their inhabitants.
The fund would also help in special crises (e.g. natural disasters, pandemics or economic crises) in those countries that would otherwise be forced to scale back their social protection programmes due to financial constraints.
It goes without saying that social protection is a task that must, in principle, be funded from the state’s resources. Therefore, international support – regardless of whether it would be provided through bilateral or multilateral programmes such as a Global Fund – can only ever be a transitional solution. Insofar, it would also be important that intensive efforts continue to be made to improve domestic resource mobilisation.
But people living in the world’s poorest countries, who are particularly at risk of poverty, cannot wait until it becomes possible to provide stable financing for social protection programmes from domestic resources alone. They need such protection right now.
It is therefore crucial that the international community supports these economically weaker countries in their efforts to achieve these objectives. Otherwise, Sustainable Development Goal 1.3 (implement social security systems for all and ensure broad coverage of the poor and vulnerable) can hardly be achieved within the targeted time frame of 2030.
Now, of course, one may well ask: is this yet another attempt by the North to impose its sociopolitical ideas on the Global South? This critical objection comes to mind when one considers that many social protection programmes, especially on the African continent, have come into being in recent years with the help of Western or Western-dominated development organisations.
But international support need not be tantamount to foreign domination. It depends entirely on the design of the new financing institution whether African governments will be able to implement their own ideas on the conception of social protection programmes in cooperation with the fund.
In this context, the principle of country ownership will be of great importance: if this principle becomes a key element of the fund’s governance structure and is indeed taken seriously in the practical implementation of its policies, there is a chance of setting up an institution that does not run the risk of perpetuating or even reinforcing neocolonial patterns through external dominance in the allocation of funds and programme design.
Instead, it could then succeed in financially strengthening social protection systems that countries have developed based on their social policy ideas and on the priorities in their national social protection action plans.
Within the African Union, a whole series of concepts and instruments has been developed in recent years that formulate important guidelines in this regard: the Social Policy Framework for Africa published in 2008; the Yaoundé Tripartite Declaration on the implementation of a Social Protection Floor from 2010; the Social Protection Plan for the Informal Economy and Rural Workers adopted the following year; the Agenda 2063 (whose statements on social protection largely correspond to the global consensus, found in the 2012 ILO Social Protection Floor Recommendation); the 2015 Addis Ababa Declaration on Social Protection for Inclusive Development; and last, but not least, the Protocol on the Rights of Citizens to Social Protection, an additional protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which is likely to be adopted soon.
All these documents make it clear how much importance African governments attach to the issue and that they are also working intensively on their concepts. Thus, a strong emphasis on the principle of country ownership in the fund’s governance structure would be a prerequisite for actually implementing the ideas of social protection that have been developed on the continent.
South Africa is the only African country in the G20, so it has the honourable – but also challenging – role of representing the interests of all Africans.
The South African government should seize the opportunity to support the establishment of a Global Fund that will enable the economically weaker countries of the continent to pursue ambitious goals concerning the social protection coverage of their population. Effective poverty reduction through social protection can only be achieved through solidarity – through global solidarity, but also regional solidarity among African countries.
Prior to the writing of this article, we exchanged views on the topic with the Alliance of NPO Networks. The Alliance explicitly supports the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors’ call for the establishment of a new Global Fund. The fact that this initiative is strongly backed by civil society should certainly be an important signal to South African political leaders.
19 April 2021
By Markus Kaltenborn and Letlhokwa George Mpedi.
Professor Markus Kaltenborn teaches Public Law at the Faculty of Law of Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. He is Director of the Institute of Development Research and Development Politics at the university.
Professor Letlhokwa George Mpedi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic (Designate) and former Executive Dean: Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg.
They write in their personal capacities.
|e-GCSPF # 51 - April 2021|
For years, social experts have proposed the establishment of a Global Fund for Social Protection – an international institution to help low-income countries develop the capacity to finance a minimum level of social protection for their population. The debate is now gaining momentum.
Amid the Covid-19 crisis, the proposal for a Global Fund for Social Protection has recently been taken up by a major international actor for the first time: in September 2020, the French government teamed up with the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to stage a High-Level Expert Meeting on the “Establishment of a Global Fund – Social Protection for All”.
It is highly likely that creating such an institution will also be among the topics discussed by the G20 – the group of leading industrialised and emerging economies – and the UN Human Rights Council this year. The aim is to overcome financing problems that a number of low-income countries face in trying to provide a minimum level of social security for their population. That includes achieving basic income security and access to essential health care.
Each country ultimately needs to provide social protection from its own resources, of course – for example through fiscal budgets or social insurance systems. Due to economic difficulties, however, some countries are simply not in a position to do so – at least not in the short or medium term.
The international community already provides the governments of those countries with technical support for creating the administrative structures required for social protection systems. What is often lacking, however, are the means to ensure stable funding for programmes. People living in the poorest countries of the world cannot wait for sufficient domestic resources to be mobilised. They need protection now.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the International Labour Organization (ILO) flagged up the size of the gaps that still exist in social protection worldwide (ILO, 2017). More than two thirds of the world population (about 5.2 billion people) have limited or no access to basic social protection. The pandemic has now made it abundantly clear how important it is for countries to have functioning and solidly financed social protection systems. Lockdown measures, for example, have deprived many people of their livelihood. Even though social protection has been strengthened in many countries over the past year and a number of new protection mechanisms have been developed, the measures taken are mostly temporary.
A Global Fund for Social Protection could help low-income countries develop a long-term capacity to finance social protection programmes for their populations and thus prevent the further spread of extreme poverty.
Mandate and organisational structures
It is still unclear how likely it is that such a fund actually will be established in the foreseeable future – and if it is established, what its specific assignments will be. A number of suggestions are contained in a recent call for the establishment of such a fund by the international civil society alliance Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF). Its core task, according to the GCSPF, should be to co-finance basic social protection systems – on a transitional basis – for low-income countries that lack sufficient tax revenue and for countries in crisis (e.g. due to natural disasters or economic crises) that temporarily lack the capacity to fund such systems.
The GCSPF proposal envisages a mandate for the fund that would also include action to improve domestic resource mobilisation. The organisations that have signed the call believe it is important that the fund’s activities should be in line with the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, which makes clear that social protection needs to be financed as a matter of principle from national resources. International aid can therefore only ever be an interim solution. The ILO recommendation also sets out a number of additional and equally important principles, including universality of protection and a rights-based approach.
Organisational aspects also need to be clarified. Among other things, for example, the question of where the new fund could be positioned in the institutional architecture of global social policy needs to be answered. One conceivable option would be a financing mechanism closely linked to the ILO and the World Health Organization (WHO), which are responsible for social protection and health-care issues within the UN. Another variant could be a fund established alongside the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) or under the umbrella of the Universal Social Protection 2030 Partnership (USP 2030), a global alliance of governmental and non-governmental organisations.
The composition and operation of the fund’s decision-making bodies would need to be in line with the human rights-based approach and the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) guidelines. The GPEDC calls for principles such as country ownership, inclusive partnerships, transparency and accountability as well as adequate participation of civil society.
New global initiatives needed
Many details of a new global fund are thus still under discussion. But there is no doubt about the urgent need for action. The global community still has a long way to go to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1.3 (implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable).
A financing and coordination mechanism at the global level could be an option to bundle international donors’ present efforts to help low-income countries develop stable social protection systems and thus make those efforts significantly much more effective. At the same time, a new institution of this kind would motivate donors to increase their financial support in this area. And this is indeed urgently needed.
Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, 2020: Civil Society Call for a Global Fund for Social Protection to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to build a better future.
De Schutter, O., and Sepúlveda, M., 2012: Underwriting the poor. A Global Fund for Social Protection.
Oxfam International, 2020: Shelter from the storm. The global need for universal social protection in times of COVID-19.
By Markus Kaltenborn, Laura Kreft
Markus Kaltenborn is professor of public law and director of the Institute for Development Research and Development Policy (IEE) at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, and a member of the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors. firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Kreft is a junior lawyer and research assistant at the Faculty of Law at the Ruhr University in Bochum. email@example.com
The video of the virtual event “International Solidarity to Support a Robust and Inclusive Recovery - A Global Social Protection Fund” is now online.
The virtual event, co-organized by the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), was held in the framework of the Spring Civil Society Policy Forum of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The event took place on Thursday 25 March 2021.
Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO and Deputy President of the International Trade Union Confederation
Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights
Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions
Yolande Wright, Head of Child Poverty at Save the Children
Didier Jacobs, Senior Advisor at Oxfam. His presentation is available here.
Michal Rutkowski, Global Director for Social Protection and Jobs at the World Bank
The devastating loss of jobs and livelihoods during COVID-19 has reaffirmed the importance of universal social protection, an agreed objective before the crisis. There is limited capacity for low income countries to respond to the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 because of underdeveloped social protection systems and limited revenue. Greater international solidarity in the financing of social protection could support low-income countries to close the gaps. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights is calling for the establishment of a global social protection fund. This panel discusses the proposal and the potential role for the IMF and World Bank.
********************“Solidaridad internacional en apoyo a una recuperación robusta e inclusiva
El video del evento virtual “Solidaridad internacional en apoyo a una recuperación robusta e inclusiva Un Fondo Mundial para la Protección Social” se encuentra ahora disponible aquí.
El evento, coorganizado por la Coalición Global por los Pisos de Protección Social y la Confederación Sindical Internacional, se realizó en el Foro de Políticas Relativas a la Sociedad Civil, en el marco de las Reuniones de Primavera del Banco Mundial y el Fondo Monetario Internacional. El evento se realizó el Jueves 25 de marzo de 2021.
Cathy Feingold, Directora Internacional de la AFL-CIO y Presidenta Adjunta de la Confederación Sindical Internacional
Olivier de Schutter, Relator Especial de la ONU sobre la extrema pobreza y los derechos humanos
Omar Faruk Osman, Secretario General de la Federation of Somali Trade Unions
Yolande Wright, Directora sobre reducción de la pobreza infantil en Save the Children
Didier Jacobs, Asesor Senior de Oxfam. Su presentación se encuentra disponible aquí.
Michal Rutkowski, Director del Departamento de Prácticas Mundiales de Protección Social y Trabajo del Banco Mundial
La devastadora pérdida de empleos y medios de subsistencia durante la COVID-19 ha reafirmado la importancia de una protección social universal, objetivo ya acordado antes de la crisis. Los países de ingresos bajos cuentan con una capacidad limitada para responder a las consecuencias sociales y económicas de la COVID-19, al disponer de sistemas de protección social poco desarrollados e ingresos limitados. Una mayor solidaridad internacional en la financiación de la protección social podría contribuir a ayudar a estos países a cerrar la brecha. El Relator Especial de la ONU sobre la extrema pobreza y los derechos humanos ha pedido el establecimiento de un fondo mundial para la protección social. Esta mesa redonda discutirá las propuestas y el posible papel del FMI y el Banco Mundial.
Over 200 civil society organizations and trade unions unite to call for a Global Fund for Social Protection to protect the most vulnerable during COVID-19 and beyond.
The programme Improving Synergies Between Social Protection and Public Finance Management provides medium-term support to multiple countries aiming to strengthen their social protection systems at a national level and ensure sustainable financing. The programme aims to support countries in their efforts towards achieving universal social protection coverage.
This initiative is implemented jointly by the ILO, Unicef, and the GCSPF.