“Political choice” keeps social protection out of reach for the 99 per cent


Anti-poverty campaigners have said that a lack of social security across the world is a “political choice, not an inevitability”, following the release of a report showing that most of the world’s population is living without basic social protections such as pensions, healthcare coverage or unemployment benefits.

The World Social Protection Report 2014-15 found that less than 27 percent of people worldwide have access to adequate social protection.

Less than 12 per cent of unemployed workers receive unemployment benefits, according to the report, and many of the 18,000 deaths of children around the world each day could be prevented through better social protection.

For the report, released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) last week, 200 countries were surveyed for the availability of basic healthcare coverage and income security for children, working-age adults and older people.

Carolin Vollmann, economic advisor and research officer for the Department of Economic and Social Policy at the International Trade Union Confederation, described the low levels of coverage described in the report as “shocking.”

“The report is striking in the way it points out the divergence between the acknowledgement of social protection as a human right by the UN, the ILO and the G20 on one side, and the status-quo we are living in on the other side - including the erosion of social protection in many advanced countries,” she told Equal Times.

The report states that cuts to social protection across the European Union have “already contributed to increases in poverty which now affects 123 million people, or 24 per cent of the population, many of whom are children, women, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

“The global community agreed in 1948 that social security and healthcare for children, working age people who face unemployment or injury, and older persons, are a universal human right,” said ILO Deputy Director-General Sandra Polaski.

“And yet in 2014 the promise of universal social protection remains unfilled for the large majority of the world’s population.”


Cuts: a political choice, not an inevitability

Government ministers and leaders of many developed countries have said that their existing benefits systems are “unaffordable” and “unsustainable” and that cuts to social security programmes are necessary in times of financial crisis.

But anti-poverty campaigners and researchers say this is not the case.

”Governments, under pressure from the financial markets and international financial institutions, are using the crisis to attack hard-won social protections such as education and healthcare,” said Owen Espley, senior economic justice campaigner at the anti-poverty charity War on Want (WOW).

“This is a political choice, not an inevitability. From bailouts to tax breaks, the cost of unregulated international capitalism is being passed onto the poorest and the most vulnerable, as the rich prosper.”

“While the vulnerable suffer, the profits of corporations are continuing to rise.”

Michelle Maher, representing the UK’s WOW petition against the cuts, criticised the British government for its unwillingness to assess of the impact of “numerous cuts imposed on the sick, disabled people and carers.”

“The avenue they have chosen is to shrink social security support under the guise of austerity, whilst achieving an ideological aim,” Maher told Equal Times.

The report also showed that, whilst social security is being cut in developed countries, many middle and lower income countries have extended their social security programmes.

Vollmann said that the expansion of social security in countries such as Thailand, India, China, Uruguay, Ghana, and Vietnam “gives hope and shows that social protection is not an expensive privilege of high-income countries.”

“It is feasible on a smaller scale and has promoted higher equality, lower levels of poverty and stable growth in many of these countries,” she said.

“These programs might not be immediately sufficient, and administration capacity needs to be developed, but these are initial problems that will be overcome quickly.”
Polaski said: “Modern society can afford to provide social protection. It is now a matter of political will to make it a reality.”

Professor Hartley Dean at the London School of Economics Department of Social Policy told Equal Times that the problem was “not so much down a lack of political will as ideological reluctance within the international community.”