MIL-OSI United Nations: Collaborative Approaches Key for Realizing Inclusive Economic Growth, Ending Poverty, Speakers Stress, as Social Development Commission Opens Session

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Source: United Nations 4

Inclusive economic growth is key to social development and poverty eradication, requiring policies and programmes created by collaboration, such as economists strategizing alongside mothers, corporate executives engaging with the unemployed and political leaders consulting youth, speakers told the Commission for Social Development at the opening of its sixty-second session.

Social development is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, declared Commission Chair Ruchira Kamboj (India), adding that its central pledge of leaving no one behind is grounded in a social perspective of development, based on equity, social justice and non-discrimination.

The session will run through 14 February under its priority theme “Fostering social development and social justice through social policies to accelerate progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to achieve the overarching goal of poverty eradication”.  It takes place when the world is witnessing new conflicts, escalating climate change, a cost-of-living crisis, entrenched inequalities, rising poverty and widespread food insecurity.

In practice, she said, social development and social justice require that economic growth is inclusive, that the jobs being created provide decent work and that the benefits of the green transition, digital transformation and other megatrends are shared equitably.  Appealing to all delegations, civil society organizations and representatives of the United Nations system, she pledged:  “Together, we will map out the paths towards a more inclusive, just and sustainable future.”

Mwiza Muwowo, a youth advocate of the Global Youth Health Caucus of Copper Rose Zambia, delivering her statement via a pre-recorded video message, stressed the importance of empowering youth.  In the Global South, she said, a significant portion of the population in underserved regions is yet to feel the transformative power of digital inclusion, describing the reality as “a profound chasm of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potentials”.

In Zambia, 60 per cent of youth lack access to essential digital resources, hindering economic participation.  “As we navigate this digital frontier, let our policies be bridges over the digital divide,” she appealed, underlining the need to harness the power of access to technology for health and social justice.  “Let us be architects […] of policies that reach the remotest corners,” she declared.

“Let us be candid:  we are not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said General Assembly President Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), pointing to converging global challenges including conflict and climate change to debt distress, trade shocks, and fraying trust in institutions.  As a result, he said, the world is fast losing the battle on poverty, hunger and inequality, on quality education for all, on accessible and affordable health care, and on social protection systems.

On that, Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that undoing these negative trends will require a fundamental shift that identifies and removes the barriers to people’s aspirations — the unjust exclusions tied to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disabilities and socioeconomic status.

Also addressing the Commission was Jean Quinn, Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee for Social Development, who urged Member States to include people with lived experience of any kind in the design, implementation, and assessment of policy responses.  She expressed hope that an outcome document for the session would address these issues concerning NGOs.  “Don’t talk about us without us,” she said.

Robert Rae, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, delivering his remarks on behalf of Paula Narváez, Council President, spotlighted the potential of the ongoing digital revolution to increase access to social protection, education and health care, citing a successful example of India.

The Commission also began its general discussion, which is expected to continue into next week.

“Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response from the international community based on the principles of responsibility sharing and global solidarity,” said Betty Amongi, Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. Noting an imperative need for North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation, she stressed that developing countries require financial support of at least $3.3 trillion to $4.5 trillion annually to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Developed countries should fulfil their 0.7 per cent ODA target, she urged.

Belgium’s delegate, speaking for the European Union, in its capacity as observer, shared how the bloc promotes education and training to prepare young persons for the digital and green transitions, including its Pact for Skills scheme, which brings together companies, workers, local authorities, social partners, training providers and employment services to identify what skills will be needed in different sectors.  As well, he emphasized the bloc’s focus on promoting equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunities for all, underscoring the need for services and the digital and green transitions to be disability inclusive and accessible.

The representative of Belarus, speaking for the Group of Friends of the Family, said that most of the internationally agreed development goals, especially those related to poverty eradication, would be difficult to attain unless strategies to achieve them focus on the family, stressing the need to place family policies at the centre of the social protection agenda.

Shamma Bint Sohail Al Mazrui, Minister for Community Development of the United Arab Emirates, said that her country’s social sector is a dynamic arena involving multiple stakeholders, different interests and goals. Within this complexity lies the potential for profound change, she observed.  “In short, if we can bring the public back into public policy, the formula will finally work,” she concluded.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the session’s priority theme.  In her keynote address, Nora Lustig, Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics and Founding Director of the Commitment to Equity Initiative at Tulane University, cautioned that consumption taxes to finance social programmes could increase poverty.  Therefore, when addressing social policies, it is important to think about how to finance them.

John Wilmoth, Officer-in-Charge and Acting Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced three reports contained in documents E/CN.5/2024/3, E/CN.5/2024/2 and A/79/61-E/2024/48.

In other business, the Commission elected, by acclamation, Joslyne Kwishaka (Burundi) and Stéphanie Toschi (Luxembourg) as its Vice-Chairs.  Ms. Toschi will also assume the responsibilities of Rapporteur for this session.  The Commission also adopted its provisional agenda contained in document E/CN.5/2024/1, also approving the proposed modalities and the organization of work contained in the same document, as orally revised.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 February, to continue its work.

Opening Remarks

RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India), Chair of the Commission for Social Development, opened its sixty-second session, introducing its priority theme, “Fostering social development and social justice through social policies to accelerate progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to achieve the overarching goal of poverty eradication”.  Social development is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she declared, adding that its central pledge of leaving no one behind is grounded in a social perspective of development, based on equity, social justice and non-discrimination.  With the world off track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline, it is also witnessing new conflicts, escalating climate change, a cost-of-living crisis, entrenched inequalities, increasing mistrust, rising poverty and widespread food insecurity.  Concrete and concerted action is needed to change course and increase efforts to address gaps in core social services, by promoting universal access to health care and social protection, along with quality education and decent work for all.

A rights-based approach and improvements in policy implementation are required to deliver quality services for all, she said, also underscoring the need to expand critical infrastructure that enables access to drinking water and sanitation, electricity and the Internet.  Increasing domestic investment in social policies through better tax collection and reprioritizing public spending is crucial, as well as strengthening multilateral cooperation.  In practice, social development and social justice require that economic growth is inclusive, that the jobs being created provide decent work and that the benefits of the green transition, digital transformation and other megatrends are shared equitably, she said.  The Commission will also examine an emerging issue under the title, “Influence of Digital Transformation on Inclusive Growth and Development:  A Path to Realizing Social Justice”.  Digital transformation presents many opportunities for accelerating social development but also numerous challenges for ensuring that such development benefits all, she added.

The Commission’s annual session is timely, she said, noting that in 2023, Member States reaffirmed their commitment to the Goals.  Now, the Commission is gathering to provide substantive expert advice and policy recommendations on social development and social justice to support the Economic and Social Council and Member States in their efforts to implement the outcome of the 2023 SDG Summit, accelerate progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and prepare for a possible World Social Summit in 2025.  With the commitment of all delegations, civil society organizations and representatives of the United Nations system, “we will successfully accelerate progress towards the overarching goal of poverty eradication and social development”, she said, pledging:  “Together, we will map out the paths towards a more inclusive, just and sustainable future.”

DENNIS FRANCIS (Trinidad and Tobago), President of the General Assembly, stating “Let us be candid: we are not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” pointed to converging global challenges including conflict and climate change to debt distress, trade shocks, and fraying trust in institutions.  As a result, he said, the world is fast losing the battle on poverty, hunger and inequality, on quality education for all, on accessible and affordable health care, and on social protection systems.  A staggering 575 million people will live in extreme poverty in 2030.  Against this backdrop, he called for an approach adapted to evolving challenges, as acknowledged at the 2023 SDG Summit in New York in September.  This includes social policies that make strategic investments in peace; closing the digital divide and empowering people everywhere; and embracing equitable and inclusive growth and development driven by shared innovation.  As well, it calls for dismantling structural barriers that leave people behind. 

He also called for socially just policies, frameworks, budgeting, and legislation; innovative policy shifts that create a conducive fiscal space for SDG investments; and cooperation and the alignment of international and domestic policies to capitalize on funds, including official development assistance (ODA) and domestic resources.  Urging Member States to focus on actions that give rise to meaningful gains, he said the General Assembly’s inaugural Sustainability Week in April offers a chance to explore challenges and opportunities for sustainable solutions in tourism, transport, infrastructure and connectivity, energy and debt.  The goal is to pave the way for the Summit of the Future, where world leaders are expected to expedite action to achieve the SDGs, re-energize the landmark consensus at the heart of 2030 Agenda and advance discussions ahead of the 2025 World Social Summit.  The discussions over the next eight days will feed into other ongoing intergovernmental processes, he said, calling for rebuilding trust and reigniting solidarity.

ROBERT RAE, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, delivering his remarks on behalf of Paula Narváez, Council President, underscored that poverty eradication remains the principal challenge of sustainable development.  Calling for urgent and innovative action, he drew attention to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which will focus on the theme of “Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda and eradicating poverty in times of multiple crises: The effective delivery of sustainable, resilient and innovative solutions”.  The Commission’s session will provide important input to the Forum, he said, highlighting the close link between this session’s topic – the influence of digital transformation on inclusive growth – and social development.  The ongoing revolution in digital technologies provides a great opportunity for identifying innovative solutions to address contemporary challenges, he pointed out, spotlighting their potential to increase access to social protection, education and health care.  Despite its many possibilities, access to technologies and the Internet remains uneven. 

At the Council’s Special Meeting in Santiago, Chile in January, strong messages emerged on the need for more decent jobs as a crucial response to poverty and deepening inequalities, he said.   Participants underscored the need to look to the future of demographic trends and technological innovation, while understanding that emerging technologies are not an end in themselves but a critical means to achieving the SDGs.  Last week, the Partnership Forum reiterated the crucial role played by effective partnerships in the pursuit of sustainable development, as an indispensable mechanism for pooling resources and expertise, ensuring efforts translate into tangible impacts on the ground.  “While the data tells us we are falling behind on the achievement of the SDGs, let us look ahead to what is possible,” he said, adding: “with renewed commitment, mutual solidarity and cooperation, and better coordinated efforts, we can overcome our current challenges and develop game-changing policies and actions needed to deliver on the promise of an inclusive and sustainable future.”

LI JUNHUA, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that the latest analysis of global economic prospects by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs shows that the gap between developed and developing economies is widening.  While unemployment rates in many developed economies have fallen below pre-pandemic levels, many of them are struggling with high unemployment.  In most economies, wage growth failed to offset the impact of inflation and exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis.  “The 2024 outlook is bleak,” he said, noting that geopolitical tensions, tighter financing conditions, debt vulnerabilities, slowing trade and persistent global warming threaten social and economic progress.  “Those already furthest behind are bearing the brunt of the blow,” he added, drawing attention to the 4.5 billion people around the world lacking coverage for essential health-care services and the 4.1 billion people excluded from any form of social protection. Undoing this trend will require a fundamental shift that identifies and removes the barriers to people’s aspirations — the unjust exclusions tied to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disabilities and socioeconomic status.

Realizing the SDGs will require investments in people, he stressed, stating that the SDG Stimulus serves as a guide towards this end.  The proposal by the Secretary-General to host a World Social Summit in 2025 recognized the need for an action plan for social development fit for the twenty-first century. The Summit would draw on past lessons to advance policies and measures that rebuild trust between Governments and their citizens and give momentum towards achieving the Goals.  At the SDG Summit, world leaders committed to taking “continuous, fundamental, transformative and urgent actions at all levels and by all stakeholders to overcome the crises and obstacles facing our world.”  It is “our collective responsibility” to deliver on this promise, he emphasized.

JEAN QUINN, Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee for Social Development, said structural challenges have made every effort to achieve inclusive and resilient societies less effective, leading to an increase in extreme poverty and a deepening of the feminization of poverty.  Sustainable change and leadership are necessary to establish a renewed social contract that integrates social, economic, financial, environmental, and political justice, nationally and internationally.  “These are the pillars of international peace, prosperity, and security, as stated in the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development,” she added.  To this end, the focus must be on investing in human capital through transformative social policies and programmes, and a “whole society” approach to formulating national and international development plans. As well, existing global financial structures should be reformed to address global economic inequalities.  “Financing for development cannot be considered in isolation,” she said, emphasizing, “It needs to be clearly linked to its main purpose: protection of basic human rights and eradication of poverty.” 

She underscored the need to ensure all people have equal access to a healthy and safe environment and fair protection from environmental hazards and risks, and to ensure that all persons are equal before and under the law.  Member States should include people with lived experience of any kind, in the design, implementation, and assessment of policy responses; ensure equal access to affordable and adequate housing including for those experiencing homelessness; and establish nationally owned and well-financed universal social protection systems and floors.  She also underscored the need to extend debt relief and forgiveness for least developed countries;  mainstream a gender perspective into all policies; advance Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of their rights; and for “care” to be recognized as a societal responsibility.  She looked forward to an outcome document for the session that would address these issues, recalling, in conclusion, the words of the people her organization represented, who say: “don’t talk about us without us.”

MWIZA MUWOWO, a youth advocate of the Global Youth Health Caucus of Copper Rose Zambia, delivering her statement via a pre-recorded video message, echoed the commitment of many young people from the Global South to advancing education, health and technology intersections. This year’s theme embodies “the very core of our collective responsibility,” she said, “to confront the harsh realities of inequality, amplifying voices from the corners of forgotten communities.”  In regions where poverty casts a persistent shadow, social development becomes not just an agenda item but “a lifeline for millions”, she said, adding:  “Our discussions must transcend rhetoric; they must architect tangible change.”  In the Global South a significant portion of the population in underserved regions is yet to feel the transformative power of digital inclusion.  Citing this reality as “a profound chasm of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potentials”, she said that the digital divide accentuates existing disparities in the Global South, where health and education intertwine with socioeconomic challenges. 

She went on to underscore that over 60 per cent of youth in Zambia lack access to essential digital resources, hindering economic participation and curtailing access to crucial information.  “Simply put, in a room of ten young people, more than 6 lack access,” she stated, voicing concern over how digitally excluded many young people in the Global South are.  In this respect, social and economic development — or the lack thereof — have immensely affected digital transformation and social development.  “As we navigate this digital frontier, let our policies be bridges over the digital divide,” she appealed, underlining the need to harness the power of access to technology for health and social justice.  Calling “not just for connectivity but for connectivity with purpose”, she emphasized that digital platforms must reach the remotest corners, empowering communities with knowledge and care.  “Let us be architects […] of policies that reach the remotest corners,” she declared.

General Discussion

BETTY AMONGI, Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that meager financial resources and weak health infrastructure continue to affect developing countries while severe food crises, the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss, and famine conditions make it impossible for them to achieve the 2030 Agenda.  “Progress towards elimination of hunger and poverty is only possible if we can turn our words into concrete actions,” she said, calling for financial support of at least $3.3 trillion to $4.5 trillion annually to achieve the SDGs by 2030.  Developed countries should fulfil their 0.7 per cent ODA target.  The $650 billion in new special drawing rights (SDRs) must be redistributed and concessional finance must be made available for developing countries by multilateral institutions and development banks.  Developing countries also require fiscal space to provide social protection and universal health coverage to their populations.

She stressed that the intersection of poverty, food insecurity, climate change and environmental degradation calls for achieving sustainable development in its three dimensions — economic, social and environmental — in a balanced and integrated manner, such as through creating employment opportunities and strengthening climate adaption and mitigation capacities.  Equal access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities, including vocational and skills training, can help workers to be more resilient to shocks and can create sustainable employment opportunities.  The international structures of finance, production and commerce, including agricultural trade, must be made fairer and equitable.  “Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response from the international community based on the principles of responsibility sharing and global solidarity,” she said, noting an imperative need for North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.

The representative of Belgium, speaking for the European Union, in its capacity as observer, underscored the need to rebuild the social contract through a comprehensive approach based on human rights, fundamental freedoms and labour standards, ahead of the Summit of the Future and the World Social Summit.  Turning to the session’s priority theme, he stated that the European Union collaboratively advances social justice, under the European Pillar of Social Rights and its action plan, as well as actively promotes the social dimension through the Global Gateway strategy, which aims to support SDG implementation.  The bloc and its member States strongly support the Global Coalition for Social Justice, he said, voicing support to the decision by Brazil, as the Group of 20 presidency, to focus on combating inequalities.

He went on to enumerate the European Union’s policies, which promote education and training to prepare young persons for the digital and green transitions, including its Pact for Skills scheme, which brings together companies, workers, local authorities, social partners, training providers and employment services to identify what skills will be needed in different sectors.  As well, he emphasized the bloc’s focus on promoting equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunities for all, underscoring the need for services and the digital and green transitions to be disability inclusive and accessible.  On that, he spotlighted the bloc’s adoption of the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030, which also led to the adoption of the Disability Employment Package among other flagship initiatives.  The pandemic had an impact on older persons’ social and occupational inclusion and right to health, he said, noting that the bloc would engage with the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing to address the issue.

DONNA COX, Minister for Social Development and Family Services of Trinidad and Tobago, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that the convening of a World Social Summit in 2025 would serve as an opportunity to review the gaps and progress in advancing a people-centred approach to development.  Social justice — one of the many facets that impact development — plays an intrinsic role in improving the well-being of individuals and restoring human dignity. It spans various sectors, including human rights, education, housing, food security, bridging the digital divide, and a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Citing climate change as “one of the greatest challenges” which disproportionately affects small island developing States, she said its effects have stymied the region’s development trajectory, continue to reverse hard-won development gains, and are intertwined with rising inequalities within and among countries.  “For us, social justice includes climate justice,” she asserted, adding:  “We are among the most vulnerable, but least responsible”.  Accordingly, it is imperative to collectively address the social, economic and environmental impacts of climate change with alacrity.  Noting that “unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response from the international community,” she stressed the importance of North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.  Further, the international community must reform the international financial architecture and facilitate an enabling environment for developing countries to actively participate in and benefit from the global economy.  To this end, the Multi-Vulnerability Index and the Bridgetown Initiative — which have found consensus among CARICOM — must be vigorously pursued.

The representative of Belarus, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Family, said that poverty endangers and disrupts family functioning, but has rarely been the focus of major poverty reduction policy initiatives.  Stressing the need to place family policies at the centre of the social protection agenda, he argued that most of the internationally agreed development goals, especially those related to poverty eradication, would be difficult to attain unless strategies to achieve them focus on the family.  The Group expresses its support for the implementation of family-oriented poverty reduction policies to combat social exclusion.  It is also important to formulate family-sensitive policies in the areas of housing, work, health, welfare and education to create a supportive environment for the family.

He went on to underscore the critical need to analyse macroeconomic stability, structural adjustment programmes, taxation, investments, employment, markets and all relevant sectors of the economy.  “An urgent reform in the international economic order and its financial structures is the main prerequisite for the economic and social development and well-being of the family,” he said, highlighting the importance of promoting family stability and supporting the family in its role as the nurturer and educator of children.  He then urged States to continue making every effort to realize the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes and to develop strategies and programmes aimed at strengthening national capacities to address family issues.

The representative of Botswana, speaking on behalf of the African Group, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, stated that although the development context and landscape in many African countries is changing, African States must continue to build and sustain the momentum achieved and ensure that their development priorities and aspirations find fulfilment in the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.  There is a need to broaden and strengthen partnerships, including South-South, North-South and triangular partnerships, to ensure supportive international frameworks for trade, taxation, technology, and climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience, for sustained human development.  Such partnerships are also needed for sufficient, predictable and well-coordinated financing for development, including national budgets, ODA, debt cancellation and new financing sources.  

Noting that the Addis Ababa Action Agenda is key to achieving a balanced financing approach, she expressed deep concern over the constraints in the fight against poverty, which are rising due to the ongoing global financial, economic, the world food crises, continuing food insecurity, the energy crisis and the challenges posed by climate change.  Recognizing that the fight against poverty requires concerted global action and partnerships, she called for the international community to “pull our efforts together and step up progress to reduce the levels of poverty and social injustice in the world”.  International development assistance must be commensurate with the challenges to support national efforts, including market access, universal health coverage, credit, education, science and technology transfer and technical assistance, for the development of local human capital. 

The representative of Luxembourg, speaking for the United Nations LGBTI+ Core Group, recalled its focus during the Commission’s last three sessions on the recognition and elimination of the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and all forms of violence faced by LGBTI persons.  He highlighted the opportunity presented by this year’s priority theme to focus on social policies and legislation that take into consideration the needs and perspectives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.  On that, he voiced hope that the challenges such persons face would be explicitly considered in the Secretary-General’s future reports for the Commission when mentioning groups in vulnerable situations and conditions.  “This is particularly important as the session’s report highlights pathways and recommendations for just, inclusive, and effective social policies, in particular stepping up efforts to provide universal social protection, affordable and quality health-care services and affordable quality education for all,” he said. 

He went on to underscore the need for timely and disaggregated data collection, with necessary safeguards in place, to adopt social policies that truly address the challenges faced by LGBTI persons.  Such persons should have equal rights to participate fully in society, with equal access to social services, such as education, health, and social protection, and be equally included in policy-making processes that affect their lives, thereby addressing structural inequalities and fostering fairer societies.  “Otherwise, we risk undermining the very foundations of social development and justice,” he added. 

ANA MENDES GODINHO, Minister for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security of Portugal, associating herself with the European Union, underlined the importance of fostering social development through social policies to accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda.  Progress on most SDGs is either moving slowly or retreating below the 2015 baseline, she cautioned, noting the shared responsibility of the international community to accelerate it.  “The geopolitical tension that have arisen cannot stop us,” she stressed, adding:  “We cannot freeze just because we are facing major structural challenges.”  International tensions, green and digital transitions and demographic changes need concrete actions and answers.  Underscoring the need to commit to bold and transformative actions anchored in international solidarity, she said that the cost-of-living crisis is a reminder that social safety nets are critical for development.  Also, to break the cycle of poverty, States must invest in children and ensure that all children have access to essential services.

JOHANNES RAUCH, Federal Minister for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection of Austria, aligning himself with the European Union, announced that for the second time, his Ministry will devote €15 million of its budget for ODA.  Furthermore, Austria supports the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Decent Work Agenda and the Global Coalition for Social Justice for a coherent multilateral approach.  Citing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a powerful instrument, he noted that better inclusion of women with disabilities is one of Austria’s top priorities.  To actively involve young people to create a better future, the country has lowered the voting age to 16.  In response to historically high inflation, he noted that the Government has initiated the automatic annual adjustment of social and family benefits, investing €665 million.  It is further essential to create conditions that enable persons to grow old actively, self-determinedly and, above all, with dignity. 

NEVINE KABBAJ, Minister of Social Solidarity of Egypt, said that the Government exerted great efforts to identify poverty spots to expand coverage and target the most vulnerable.  It has made the social protection system as inclusive as possible.  Egypt has the biggest conditional cash transfer programme in the region, with beneficiaries increasing almost 200 per cent from 1.8 million households in 2015 to 5.2 million households in 2023.  To date, Egypt has designed and implemented nearly 40,000 projects to help the vulnerable to improve their economic situations through entrepreneurship and microfinance. However, the country is hardly controlling its rapidly increasing population.  Social protection remains perceived as an economic crisis response, not as a part and parcel of economic reform and economic empowerment programmes.  It must be part of the broader and longer-term policies that alleviate poverty, reduce inequalities and expand social justice, she insisted.

FLORENCE KOSKEY BORE, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Kenya, underscoring the importance of social justice in advancing equitable social development for all, stressed the need to improve international debt mechanisms to support debt review and restructuring and to ensure enhanced representation from developing countries in the decision-making of international economic and financial institutions.  Turning to her country’s social justice policies, she spotlighted the Kenya Social Protection Policy (2023), which provides social protection measures on income security, social health insurance, shock responsiveness and complementary interventions for all Kenyans from birth to old age.  As well, her country plans to expand the coverage of the National Safety Net Programme from 1.3 million to 2.5 million beneficiaries by 2025 and will scale up by 500,000 households this year.

She went on to highlight Kenya’s health-related policies, to improve community health and health care delivery systems, through measures that strengthen the provision, access and management of primary health care, among others.  As well, her country has implemented inclusive family-centred policies and programmes and is implementing a national positive parenting programme, providing training to parents and caregivers.  The National Care Reform Strategy for Children in Kenya reaffirms the leading role of the family in the care, nurturing, growth and development of children.  Kenya also has strengthened government service delivery by digitizing and automating over 5,000 key government processes, she said, also highlighting steps taken to facilitate the access of the youth to the digital economy.  Further, she highlighted the implementation of programmes to address systemic inequalities, including affirmative action programmes on employment, education, health and community empowerment.

KAISA JUUSO, Minster for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, said that, given the broad social dimension of sustainability, a wide variety of sectors is needed, including social protection, employment, education, gender equality and disability inclusion.  Finland has been able to make progress on gender equality and economic progress through the so-called economy of well-being and care, based on investments in effective policies and structures that support economic growth and fiscal stability.  Stressing the need to invest in the capacity of people to work productively, she said the focus should be on older persons’ health and children’s education.  Caring for children and older persons often falls on the shoulders of women, she pointed out, spotlighting policy innovations — such as affordable child health care — which are essential to improving women’s employment rates and, therefore, benefit the national economy.

Adding to that, the youth delegate of Finland emphasized that the societal significance of women engaging in paid work must not be overlooked.  Also, girls are too often forced to bear a disproportionate burden in managing household responsibilities and caring for younger siblings at the expense of their education.  Accordingly, ensuring access to quality education for girls is crucial for sustainable development and building societal equality.  As reported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2020, 1 of 5 girls have been sexually abused or exploited before reaching the age of 18.  Warning that the number of victims will increase with accelerating digitalization, she called on States to commit to ensuring the human rights of girls, both nationally and globally.

NATALIA-ELENA INTOTERO, Minister for Family, Youth and Equal Opportunities of Romania, stated that “the pressing challenges we face cannot be solved individually”, calling for the root causes of inequality, political instability and displacement to be addressed.  Every country must ensure universal access to quality health care, education, sanitation, clean energy and the Internet. Further, education must be treated as a process that prepares the younger generations for the challenges of the future which unfold over the course of a lifetime, encouraging innovation, meritocracy, constructive critical thinking, curiosity, behaviour and emancipation, as an engaged, well-educated electorate is at the heart of strong democratic societies.  In Romania, she noted, education is free for children and young people throughout high school, while the system provides scholarships for eminent students studying in universities, with the Education Ministry receiving its largest-ever budget for 2024 — representing 4.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).   

SHAMMA BINT SOHAIL AL MAZRUI, Minister for Community Development of the United Arab Emirates, said that her country’s social sector is “not a straightforward tapestry, but a complex interconnected, intricate web”.  It is a dynamic arena involving multiple stakeholders, different interests and goals. Within this complexity lies the potential for profound change, she observed.  However, public policy often forgets the public, relegating their participation to mere procedural consultations or sidelining them.  Instead, economic experts should be strategizing alongside mothers, school educators collaborating with health-care professionals, private sector chief executives engaging with the unemployed, lawyers getting to know children with disabilities, media gatekeepers learning from the wisdom of the elderly, and political leaders consulting youth.  They can come together and learn from one another beyond the dry numbers and the cold Excel sheets.  “In short, if we can bring the public back into public policy, the formula will finally work,” she concluded.

KGOTLA KENNETH AUTLWETSE, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, said that this year’s theme coincides with the four pillars set out in his country’s Vision 2036, which prioritize human and social development and ensure that its national development framework is aligned with the 2030 Agenda, and aims to end poverty, inequality and realize human rights for all.  Botswana is committed to utilizing social policies to promote equitable outcomes, he said, noting that, to this end, it decided to take the bold decision to shift its approach from poverty reduction to poverty eradication.  He enumerated programmes undertaken to foster food and economic security as well as sustainable livelihoods, spotlighting his country’s investment of 3.6 per cent of GDP on social protection programmes. 

He went on to spotlight a national protection framework adopted by his country in August 2020 to guide its transition from a fragmented approach to social protection to a systems one.  As well, he highlighted several other social protection programmes, including legislation adopted to accelerate progress on economic inclusion in 2020, and a revised policy for improving the living conditions for destitute persons adopted in 2022. 

VINDHYA PERSAUD, Minister for Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and CARICOM, said that, as the world is grappling with the effects of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, geopolitical tensions and conflict, the most vulnerable require urgent action supported by the necessary resources.  Noting her Government’s proactive and people-centred approach towards the eradication of poverty, she spotlighted policies which are aimed at increasing social justice, creating employment opportunities, promoting gender equality and ensuring respect for human rights.  Guyana’s education budget has increased by more than 60 per cent with most of education and training programmes provided free of cost. Special focus is given to persons living in rural and hinterland areas. 

Having achieved universal primary education, Guyana is on a path to achieving universal access to secondary and free university education by 2025, she said.  Further, addressing food insecurity is at the core of her country’s development focus, she stressed, highlighting in this regard the 2022 Youth Agricultural and Innovation Entrepreneurship Programme.  She also pointed to Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy 2030 which harnesses its forests in the global fight against climate change.

PAULINE IRENE NGUENE, Minister for Social Affairs of Cameroon, citing a drop-off in oil revenue and security expenditures related to conflict in the country, noted the implementation of public policies aimed at strengthening the resilience of populations, ensuring equal opportunities, closing the gaps in access to basic social services and fighting against inequalities by strengthening measures to protect vulnerable individuals, groups and communities.  She further cited Cameroon’s inclusive education policies and free public-school primary education.  Universal health coverage will be successively implemented, some of it free of charge. The Government has launched a significant programme of direct and indirect transfers and humanitarian efforts, including adaptive social networks providing electronic payments to vulnerable household to support income-generating activities.  She stressed that Cameroon is dedicated to the goal of eradicating poverty, calling for sound global partnerships and driving innovative financing to achieve social development by 2030.

YAVUZ SELIM KIRAN, Deputy Minister of Family and Social Services of Türkiye, said that the substantial impact of global challenges, such as the pandemics and conflicts, has eroded investments in the 2030 Agenda, deepening pre-existing inequalities.  Gaza is among the most striking examples in this regard, he said, denouncing the disproportionate and inhumane attack conducted by Israel in the enclave.  Poverty not only deprives individuals of basic human rights and dignity, but also impedes their access to education, health care, and opportunities for personal and economic development, he warned.  His country has implemented significant changes in social protection policies and achieved a high level of human development.  If this positive trend continues, people in need of social assistance will have largely been brought under the national social protection system in the coming years, he said, noting that the country’s poverty rate declined from 20.6 per cent in 2006 to 14.4 per cent in 2022.

BARQ AL-DMOUR, Secretary General of the Ministry for Social Development of Jordan, underlined the need for policies and legislation that promote social reform, given the frequent occurrence of crises.  To this end, Jordan ensures such objectives are aligned with its national strategies in an inclusive manner, to cope with crises exacerbated by poverty, unemployment, and the flow of the displaced and refugees, he said, stressing that his country hosts among the highest number of such persons, who need social protections.  Jordan is committed to implementing all its obligations, including Agenda 2030 and the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002, among others.  He went on to underline the need for inclusive development and growth to promote resilience, as well as the importance of improving financing mechanisms and legislative reform to promote environmental, water and food security, and decent work policies.  Jordan is modernizing legislation for digital transformation and is transitioning to family care programmes and nursing homes, instead of an institutionalized means of tackling the issue of aging.

High-level Panel Discussion

Reconvening this afternoon, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the priority theme “How can social policies become more effective in achieving inclusive, resilient and equitable societies that leave no one behind?”

In her keynote address, NORA LUSTIG, Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics and Founding Director of the Commitment to Equity Initiative at Tulane University, joining via video connection, said that when considering social policies, it’s important to also think about the revenue-raising side, including taxes.  Although fiscal policy — the combination of taxes and transfers — generally reduces inequality throughout the world, it increases poverty in some countries.  All countries have some form of consumption tax, which reduces the ability of people to use disposable income to buy goods and services because part of that disposable income goes to taxes.

Consumption taxes to finance social programmes could increase poverty while transfers could generally decrease inequality, she said.  Therefore, when addressing social policies, it is important to think about how to finance them.  “If you want to keep the amount of poverty reduction or even make it bigger, then the amount of additional funds that you would need to raise through the tax system in many countries is not feasible,” she said, adding that in some countries, the taxation rate is so high that it would be an uproar.  She suggested looking at both sides of the ledger, spending on social programmes and what is needed to finance it.  And when analysing the impact of fiscal policy on any reforms, look at what it does on both inequality and poverty.

Then, the Commission began the panel discussion.  Moderated by Danilo Türk, President of Club de Madrid and former President of Slovenia, it featured presentations by:  Valérie Berset Bircher, Chief of International Labour Affairs, Labour Directorate, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland; Eleni Nikolaidou, Expert Minister Counselor, Director, Development Cooperation Policy, Hellenic Aid, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece; Gloria Reyes, General Director of Supérate, Dominican Republic; and Sabina Alkire, Director of Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford.

Ms. BIRCHER described measures taken by her country to place the better use of the potential of the country’s skilled workforce, highlighting a forthcoming proposal slated to be put before parliament to introduce individual taxation of married couples at all levels of government, which will encourage the couple to take up a second job, usually on the wife’s behalf.  Further, she underscored that improving the competitiveness of older workers is one of the Swiss Government’s priorities. She also highlighted specific measures in the health-care sector, including a popular initiative to strengthen the nursing workforce adopted after the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that her Government launched a training and education offensive in May 2022 and will propose a new federal law and additional measures to improve working conditions in the sector by spring 2024 to reduce the number of people leaving the profession prematurely. 

She went on to outline approaches that have helped reconcile social and economic objectives in Switzerland, including creating framework conditions for strong social dialogue, highlighting that federal legislative projects are subject to a regulatory impact analysis, ensuring that social consequences are addressed early in all projects.  As well, Switzerland recognizes the importance of promoting an ecologically sustainable future through an inclusive, rights-based transition, supporting the aim through the development of skills and apprenticeships focused on the green economy.  At the multilateral level, she emphasized the need to prioritize social justice, highlighting that her country has joined the ILO initiative for a Global Coalition for Social Justice.

Ms. NIKOLAIDOU, noting that sustainable development is currently hampered by an international context of profound uncertainty and geopolitical divide, pointed out that only 15 per cent of the SDG indicators are due to be met at the halfway point.  As a result, the SDGs will remain out of reach by 2030, or even 2050, if there is no improvement in current trends.  Humanitarian needs are at their highest since 1945, with an estimated 80 per cent of such needs driven by conflict, while an increasing number of countries are in severe debt, she said, adding:  “In a contested and volatile world, global development cooperation is more difficult, but more important, than ever”.  The financing gap to meet the SDGs and eliminate poverty is enormous, she said, stressing the crucial role played by ODA in the overall financing available to help achieve the 2030 Agenda. 

She went on to outline the partnerships to implement programmes in sectoral priorities by Hellenic Aid as part of its Four-Year National Programme for International Development Cooperation 2022-2025.  That would include a Fetal Medicine Programme for 2022-2025 in selected priority partner countries (Albania, Armenia, Ethiopia, Republic of Moldova and North Macedonia), as well as in Kosovo, to help reduce maternal and perinatal mortality through training in the use of ultrasound and the creation of fetal medicine units to improve the care of pregnant women.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece cooperates closely with the Medical School of the University of Ioannina Faculty of Medicine to train doctors from Albania for many different specializations. She went on to highlight the Global Gateway strategy as an example of mobilizing investments of up to €300 billion between 2021 and 2027, aimed at also supporting partner countries to progress towards the SDGs.

Ms. REYES, emphasizing the interconnectedness of work in sustainable development around the four pillars — social, environmental, economic and institutional — said that social policies must be considered an investment, not an expenditure.  To ensure public policies are viewed beyond their immediate results all along their life cycle, she emphasized the need to establish who such policies prioritize.  Information is crucial to identify those most vulnerable to climate, social, and economic shocks, she said, citing her country’s unique beneficiary system that is helping forge progress towards a universal household register.  Further, she underscored the need to identify patterns of discrimination in social policies to find root causes and instruments to prioritize.  Actions must complement the social, environmental and institutional spheres for results to be sustainable.  Further, she called for accountability and the effective and meaningful participation of a diverse range of stakeholders, highlighting that her country’s national development strategy ensures effective participation through such an approach.

Social protection systems should combine the participation of several sectors, she said, noting that such cooperation can help mobilize resources, fulfil commitments, and ensure that results remain sustainable.  On that, she cited the example of her country’s education sector, which allocates 4 per cent of GDP to pre-university educational spending.  The Dominican Republic’s prioritizing of public policies in the social sphere is reflected in the budget, she said, highlighting several measures reflecting this approach, including ensuring access to a minimum level of public health services.  This was done by providing health care insurance to 98 per cent of the population, half of which came under State coverage.  As well, she highlighted that her Government is devising a minimum basic income programme to eliminate extreme poverty and underscored the need to ensure social protection in the context of external shocks through a contingency support fund. 

Ms. ALKIRE, focusing on the interlocked deprivations of multidimensional poverty, said the multidimensional poverty index shed light on the people who were left behind on multiple indicators, across developing countries and high-income countries.  She discussed trends relating to two measures, the global multidimensional poverty index, which could be compared internationally, and the national index, which was context-specific and could be found in the global SDG database.  The latter measure could illuminate the situations of specific countries, she said, citing the reduction of Paraguay’s multidimensional poverty index from 41 per cent to 25 per cent in eight years.  The measure could also help examine subnational trends, she said, pointing to Paraguay’s reduction of poverty in rural areas the fastest.  The database covered trends for 62 countries since 2010, she said, noting that a third to a half are likely to be on track to cut the incidence of poverty by one half between 2015 and 2030.

“That means there is room and need to accelerate progress,” she said.  Turning to the global multidimensional poverty index, jointly computed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and encompassing 10 indicators across health, education and living standards, she noted that 1.1 billion people met this acute definition of poverty.  Half were children and 83 per cent lived in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Reductions in this metric were a direct outcome of social policy, she said, spotlighting the “signal case” of India, where 415 million people exited multidimensional poverty from 2005-2006 to 2019-2021, noting that the poorest states and castes in the country experienced the fastest reductions in such poverty.  Such reductions demonstrated that SDG target 1.2 is possible and can make visible the direct impact of social policy, which could take longer to be visible in monetary policy, she added.

When the floor opened for comments and questions, several speakers asked about how best to include people with disabilities in social development, how to collect and disaggregate data, how best to use technologies for inclusion, and how the multidimensional aspects of poverty can be measured.

Ms. BIRCHER said that Switzerland is carrying out various impact assessments for regulations and striving to foster multi-party consultation mechanisms with civil society, especially with representing people in vulnerable situations.  It has a federal law on eliminating inequality but is currently undergoing amendment to better integrate persons with disabilities in the job market.

Ms. NIKOLAIDOU, responding to a question about inclusion of persons with disability, said that some ministries in Greece — the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Digitalization and the Ministry of Social Services — are working on better inclusion of the group.  Her country is providing various programmes in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, including online access to education and all social services.

Ms. REYES said that the Dominican Republic used artificial intelligence to gather data and for self-services, carrying out campaigns to raise awareness among the population so that they can submit data through self-declaration tools.  Her country is also trying to identify vulnerable populations through data to focus on where national action is needed.

Ms. ALKIRE said that in terms of multidimensional poverty measures, data can be disaggregated or analysed by gender or other categories.  For example, two-thirds of the multidimensionally poor did not have a girl or woman who had completed six or more years of schooling in their households.  For climate, geospatial data can be merged with data on disasters, like cyclones, earthquakes, forest loss, and wildfire air precipitate quality, to examine the overlaps between environmental threats that affect the same people at the same time as the multiple dimensions of poverty. It is important to have indicators for the present moment.  Costa Rica, for instance, is going through the exercise to align the poverty metric with its national development plan.

MIL OSI United Nations News