Michelle Bachelet participated in the first-ever intersessional panel discussion on the right to social security organized by the Human Rights Council.
The aim was to identify challenges and best practices, including through debate among Member States, UN agencies, treaty bodies and civil society.
For Mrs Bachelet, there was no better time to talk about social security and social protection. In 2020 alone, 255 million jobs were lost due to the pandemic.
“Gaps in social security coverage and inadequate social security benefits have contributed to the inequalities that have accelerated and deepened the impact of COVID-19,” the high commissioner said.
Social security facilitates access to health care, protects people from poverty and guarantees essential economic and social rights, including food, water, housing, health and education.
The High Commissioner believes that Member States “clearly recognized” the importance of social safety nets last year when they responded to the pandemic with unprecedented protective measures to mitigate its social, economic and health impacts.
At the height of the crisis, from Malawi to Peru, the Philippines, Finland and the United States, governments quickly expanded their social assistance programs.
They introduced new money transfers for many people who are typically excluded, including casual workers, most of them women and freelancers, who work in the growing app-based “gig economy.”
In Argentina and Bolivia, for example, funds were used to promote more progressive tax systems, creating more fiscal space for social protection.
“But many of those measures were temporary,” Ms Bachelet warned.“And in every region, much more needs to be done to make the right to social security a reality for all.”
Now, she argued, member states should move from the temporary and ad hoc measures of the early months of the pandemic to longer-term policies.
Lack of coverage
According to the World Social Protection Report of the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than half of the world’s population currently has no social protection.
Only 26% of children worldwide receive social protection benefits and less than half of women with newborns worldwide receive cash maternity support. Only about 30% of people with severe disabilities receive disability benefits.
The ongoing transition to a green economy and the introduction of new technologies are also changing the work landscape, especially for the most disadvantaged.
“Social Security is an essential toolkit to help workers navigate these changes, building invaluable resilience for the economy at large,” argued Ms Bachelet.
For the High Commissioner, this type of protection is not only “a fundamental human right”, but it is also “indispensable for the exercise of many other rights and necessary for a life of dignity”.
Work in progress
Renewed solidarity is a cornerstone of the Secretary-General’s common agenda, which aims to fight inequalities and guide how the world can better recover from the pandemic.
For Ms Bachelet, in this context, international cooperation with less developed countries is “essential and will benefit everyone”.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) works to advance welfare systems around the world, prioritize healthcare budgets and increase the participation of health professionals and communities in social protection schemes.
“Social protection systems are not a drain on resources: they are an invaluable investment in healthy societies,” concluded the High Commissioner.