Social Protection Floor: A Feasible Way to Alleviate Poverty

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, for a meeting of the NGO Coalition for Social Protection Floors. This is a theme I have addressed in previous briefings, but will do so again, in the hope that you will participate in the global campaign to encourage governments to adopt this Floor as part of their national policy initiatives.

As many of you know, the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is 2015. However, despite progress in many parts of the world, poverty continues to persist like a plague, and the gap between the rich and those living in poverty continues to widen. Access to adequate social protection is recognized by the international community as a human and social right. However, today between 75 to 80 percent of the world’s population has no access to social security. When financial and economic crises occur, as in 2008–2009, these people have no social protection to fall back on, throwing them into deeper poverty than before.

The concept of a Social Protection Floor is rooted in the fundamental principle of social justice, and in the specific universal right of everyone to social security and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families. The basic idea is that no one should live below a certain income level, and everyone should have access to basic social services. The components of a Social Protection Floor include:

  1. Basic income security throughout the life span: such as pensions for the elderly and persons with disabilities, child benefits, income support benefits, services for the unemployed.
  2. Universal access to affordable services: health care, water and sanitation, education, food security, housing, and other services defined according to national priorities.

A Social Protection Floor would be nationally defined, and based on the availability of resources within a given country. It would secure protection aimed at preventing and alleviating poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion.

Of course the question from governments is always “How will we pay for this?” It is amazing how there always seems to be money available to purchase weapons and ammunitions, and to maintain arsenals. But when it comes to providing for basic human needs that would enable people to live with dignity, there always seems to be a way for governments to get around it.

One feasible way of generating resources which could help some of the poorest nations to establish their social protection floors would be the Financial Transaction Tax, also known as the Robin Hood Tax. Millions of dollars are traded on the open market each day in New York, London, Tokyo, Frankfurt (to mention just a few places) and not one penny is taxed. A Financial Transaction Tax would levy a small tax on these huge financial transactions, and begin to build up a global fund for development, for social protection and for climate adaptation.

I think it goes without saying that both Social Protection Floors, and a Financial Transaction Tax, are feasible. It is simply a question of political will. And when it comes to shifting political will, civil society has a huge responsibility.

Please note the links provided below, which will take you to a short video on the Social Protection Floor, as well as to a petition which is part of a global effort to let governments know that this is something that civil society feels is essential to any consideration of what is being called the Post-2015 Development Agenda (i.e. development after the Millennium Development Goals).

You will also find a position paper in English and Spanish prepared by the New York-based Sub-Committee on Poverty Eradication, which offers civil society’s view regarding the Post-2015 process. More about this next time…

NGO Committee on Social Development

Social Protection Floor Campaign
Link to overview in English, brief video, and postcard that can be downloaded, printed, signed and mailed

Link to petition

Position on Post-2015 Global Development Agenda from the Subcommittee for Poverty Eradication: English | Spanish