4 February 2016
Fifty-fourth Session, 4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)

Widening Inequality Stymies Efforts to Achieve Inclusive Progress, Speakers Tell Social Development Commission during General Debate on Bolstering Results

Despite progress, the development crisis continued to prevail, with the widening inequality between people and countries, delegates in the Commission for Social Development heard today, debating ways to design policies that could improve overall well-being and effectively address challenges without sacrificing the productivity that allowed their communities to advance.

The Commission continued its fifty-fourth session with a general debate on the “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, with participants emphasizing the need to address the most pressing concerns such as access to basic services, decent jobs, quality education, eradicating social exclusion and meeting climate change adaptation and mitigation needs.

Many speakers shared national experiences and actions taken in that regard, with some recommending further efforts to empower the bottom percentile of income earners and promote economic inclusion, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or disability status.  Others stressed that regional and international support played a key role to reduce amid differences both within and among countries and to achieve social development worldwide.

Addressing the Commission as a keynote speaker, Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Youth, stressed the importance of strengthened national ownership and leadership at country level, in the context of the 2030 Agenda.  Describing access to quality jobs as a major issue to address, he expressed support to the International Labour Organization’s Decent Jobs for Youth initiative.

Those themes were explored during a morning panel discussion on “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  moving from commitments to results for achieving social development”, in which three experts identified areas where social policies could directly and indirectly promote economic and environmental benefits.  Social development and inclusive strategies, they agreed, required sound and broadly based economic policies, as well as equal access to opportunities for all.

Commission Chair Ion Jinga (Romania), in his opening remarks, said social development was critical to the realization of the vision of the 2030 Agenda.  “It requires a holistic and integrated policy approach across all sectors to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.  The integration of the social, economic and environmental dimensions in a balanced manner should be explored.

With that in mind, panellists presented a range of perspectives on the matter, with Claire Melamed, Director of the Poverty and Inequality Programme at the Overseas Development Institute, pointing out that the full implementation of the globally agreed goals was possible if Governments placed partnership and people high on their agenda.  Urging civil society organizations and academics to present the truth and push their Governments to work harder, she said that the 2030 Agenda should be by and about people rather than for people.

Cristina Diez, United Nations representative for the International Movement All Together in Dignity Fourth World, said promoting social integration was a global commitment under the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development.  As the 2030 Agenda was about eradicating poverty, leaving no one behind and reaching the “furthest behind” first, she inquired why those affected most by poverty, marginalization and environmental degradation were not in the room.

Along similar lines, panellist Kunal Sen, professor of development economics and policy at the University of Manchester, described weak administrative capabilities and political commitment as the reason for the poor implementation of social and economic policies.  Reversing that trend was possible through creating policy coalitions, sharing best practices and funding.

Delivering statements in the debate were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Swaziland (for the African Group), Guyana (for the Caribbean Community), Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Indonesia, Iraq, Peru, Colombia, Republic of Korea, Paraguay, China, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Philippines, Viet Nam, Switzerland, Tunisia, Finland, Bangladesh and Venezuela.  Also speaking was a representative of the Baha’i International Community.

The Commission on Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 5 February, to continue its work.

Interactive Discussion

In the morning, the Commission held a panel discussion on the priority theme “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  moving from commitments to results for achieving social development”.  Moderated by Paul Ladd, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), it featured presentations by Kunal Sen, professor of Development Economics and Policy at the University of Manchester; Claire Melamed, Director of the Poverty and Inequality Programme at the Overseas Development Institute; and Cristina Diez, United Nations representative for the International Movement All Together in Dignity Fourth World.

Mr. SEN said the international community needed to focus on improving the implementation and integration of social and economic policies.  On social protection, he noted that current policies were an integral part of anti-poverty programmes in Latin America, Africa and Asia.  Although social protection had been discussed on the “policy table”, weak administrative capabilities and political commitment had resulted in poor implementation.  Creating broad policy coalitions, such as stronger civil society partnerships, would reverse that trend, he continued.  Turning to his research on social protection in Africa, he had examined the determinants of policy formulation and implementation in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.  Political commitment and sharing best practices, as well as funding, were keys to success, he said.

Ms. MELAMED said the full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals was possible if Governments placed partnership and people high on their agenda.  Drawing attention to misperceptions about partnerships, she urged civil society organizations and academics to present the truth and push their Governments to work harder.  Turning to “people”, she underscored that the 2030 Agenda should be by and about people rather than for people.  Underscoring the importance of learning more about disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and persons, she said there were so many ways of collecting data.  Although data might seem abstract and technical, it was a different way of telling people about the reality on the ground.

Ms. DIEZ said the 2030 Agenda was about eradicating poverty, leaving no one behind and reaching the “furthest behind” first.  In the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, the international community had made a commitment to promote social integration by fostering societies that were stable, just and based on the promotion and protection of all human rights.  If the main objective of the 2030 Agenda was to reach the furthest behind first and to eradicate poverty, she asked why those affected most by poverty, marginalization and environmental degradation were not in the room.  Continuing, she said it was unacceptable to speak about the implementation without their participation.  The Commission should mandate the Division for Social Policy and Development to work with people living in poverty to identify gaps, make proposals and measure progress on the dimensions that were more relevant to their lives.

In the ensuing discussion, Nigeria’s representative said the critical question was about how to create momentum to advance the new Goals.  To be sure, the Goals should undo the “havoc” created in the 1980s by International Monetary Fund structural adjustment policies, which had led to the “wiping out” of middle classes and rolling back of government spending on education, health and labour.  He asked about proactive postures that Governments could adopt to advance the social dimension of the Goals.  The representative of the European Union Delegation asked how the Commission could promote policy coherence.

Mr. ALHENDAWI responded by citing encouraging signs, contained in the Secretary-General’s report on implementation, that States were working to domesticate the Goals into their national planning.  Those were exercises in commitment, he said.

Mr. SEN, on public spending cuts, stressed the importance of links among different types of expenditures.  Underinvestment in one aspect of social development would constrain that in other dimensions.  There was a case to be made for protecting some types of spending.  In thinking about economic development, there was often too much reliance on certain growth strategies that were less inclusive of the poor and even some institutions.  As a result, there had not been well-balanced economies able to withstand shocks, such as falling global prices and weakening demand.

Ms. MELAMED clarified that coherence could be within a country and among social policies, as well as expressed in how countries related to one another in terms of aid, trade and other areas.  There were two prerequisites to achieve before ensuring the creation of a structure that supported policy coherence:  a knowledge gap and an institution gap.  In Governments and multilateral systems, there was tendency to make policy in silos and it was often difficult to get institutions to think about collective policy.

Ms. DIEZ, on creating momentum, recalled that the Goals had been negotiated by foreign ministries.  Implementation, however, would be carried out by other ministries.  Governments had a clear motivation to stay in power and be re-elected.  To foster progress, she suggested coupling re-election with the implementation of the Goals.  There was much policy coherence in the world, but it was skewed towards those in power who were incentivized to keep it, which in turn, had brought about inequality.  “We need a different kind of policy coherence,” she said, with a reference to leadership.

In another round of questions, Iraq’s representative urged harnessing young peoples’ potential and creating a propitious environment for employment and well-being.  He asked how Governments could foster such conditions.  A representative of a non-governmental organization said “we’re talking about human rights” and challenged States to remember that, in formulating social policy, “we are talking about people”.

Further, Nigeria’s delegate asked whether the International Labour Organization Decent Work Agenda and the idea to expand corporate employment in order to address poverty had been adequately considered.  He also asked how developing countries, especially in Africa, could mobilize domestic resources amid falling commodity prices, bearing in mind that they did not participate in global price fixing.  Finally, he asked what the Commission was doing to ensure that young people were familiar with the Goals before they left school, and further, if it would hold discussions with teachers.

While a representative of the non-governmental organization Partners in Population and Development focused on the implementation of the Goals and the importance of balancing overwhelming demands on Governments with resource allocation, a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) drew attention to a briefing yesterday on the ILO Social Employment Outlook, stressing that the number of unemployed people in 2015 was expected to increase by 0.9 per cent.  He clarified that the ILO Decent Jobs for Youth initiative would not create jobs, but rather, foster strategic alliance building, based on partnerships and the mobilization of resources with the private sector and civil societies.  It would focus on regional action, with United Nations agencies scaling up action according to national priorities in areas such as green jobs for youth, digital skills building and the creation of technology hubs.

A youth delegate said that, with so much spending on military budgets, young people did not want to hear there was no funding for social programmes.

Ms. DIEZ said the issue of internal resource mobilization was linked to international taxation and illicit financial flows, among other things.  One idea was to strengthen the financing for development process and follow-up, as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda was not strong enough on those issues.

Ms. MELAMED said the issue of employment was at the heart of sustainable development aspirations, especially among small enterprises.  That was an essential part of every Goal in 2030 Agenda.  While global gross domestic product (GDP) had been rising, the share paid out in wages was static, meaning that the gap between wealth created and the portion paid out to workers was widening.  She called the potential for social unrest “frightening”, stressing that assumptions about how people earned a living and how Governments generated revenue were being threatened.

Mr. SEN said it was important to consider how to create the most effective anti-poverty programmes.  On employment, he said an increasing number of jobs that had been created in agriculture, as well as in services and manufacturing, were informal.  A better sense of how to address those issues was needed, particularly in the Decent Jobs agenda.

Mr. ALHENDAWI said the Decent Jobs for Youth initiative, coordinated by ILO and involving 19 United Nations agencies, was a response to surprising figures on youth unemployment.  There was a huge entrepreneurial tendency among youth in Africa and stakeholders had to ask whether the right frameworks, funding modalities and coaching opportunities were in place to unleash its potential.

General Debate

ZWELETHU MNISI (Swaziland), on behalf of the African Group, associated himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressing that the development crisis in Africa had not fundamentally changed, with several countries still at the bottom of social development and economic indices.  Young people in least developed countries, many in the sub-Saharan region, faced weak job prospects, with most working in vulnerable informal jobs with low wages and poor conditions.  War and civil strife was fuelling poverty.  While industrialization was the most viable path to employment, the continent lacked infrastructure, market access and technology.  He urged partners to help to build inclusive education and learning systems and to “join hands” in meeting climate change adaptation and mitigation needs.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), aligned himself with the “Group of 77” and said the fight against poverty must include the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.  Every effort must be made to empower the bottom percentile of income earners and promote economic inclusion, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or disability status.  State intervention was critical to promoting and protecting human rights and he accorded the highest priority to gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The Community had harmonized public health efforts through a cooperative initiative that had resulted in a 49 per cent regional reduction in HIV incidence in 2012.  He noted the Secretary-General’s recommendation for investment in institutional and human resource capacities in Government agencies to ensure they engaged and managed partnerships with stakeholders.

NANA OYE LITHUR, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, associating herself with the African Group, said social development should identify policies and strategies in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals that could be adapted to suit different social and geographic contexts.  Ghana was building a social protection system as a strategy for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  The plan comprised partnerships; a legal and policy framework; an institutional governance framework; a national household registry database; and strengthened coordination.  A financing mechanism was also in place, as were monitoring and evaluation systems to track implementation.  Citing gains, she said that for up to nine years, the Government provided income security to extremely poor households.  The “LEAP” cash-transfer programme had served 146,074 households — or 577,000 individuals.  Concluding, she urged international support for such social protection systems.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Family in New York, said the family was the basic unit of society and that it should be strengthened.  The family played an important role in poverty and inequality reduction and in social development and social cohesion.  A healthy family environment could not be achieved without the State’s engagement, he stressed, noting that the role of a supportive parent could not be substituted.  It was disappointing that there were attempts to withdraw the theme of the family from the United Nations agenda for the sake of other “controversial” issues.  It was also disappointing that the historic “Group of 77” and China resolution on the family had not been presented at the last session of the Commission, he said, expressing his hope that it would be put forward in coming sessions.

GEORG ANTONSEN (Norway) supported all United Nations initiatives that promoted non-discrimination and respect for human dignity.  As the refugee situation was straining the global humanitarian system, Norway, as announced today, would provide more than $1 billion to Syria and its neighbours over the next four years.  It also sought to bolster the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Education was key to breaking the cycle of discrimination and poverty, he said, noting that the Government would submit a white paper to Parliament on family policies, focused on the diversity of and respect for all family forms.  It also was working on a strategy to combat hate speech, he said.

MARTINO JANNUZZI (Brazil) noted that his country’s social policies had been referenced in the Human Development Report and the “Sustaining Human Progress:  Reduction of Vulnerability and the Constriction of Resilience” report.  The Brazilian “social panorama” had dramatically changed, with extreme poverty falling to 2.5 per cent in 2014 from 13.5 per cent in 1992.  Social indicators, such as education profiles and urban services, had shown an even wider social transformation.  Economic decisions that considered people’s needs and better programme implementation should be pursued, as should additional funding for enhancing the social protection system.

ELIF ÇALIŞKAN (Turkey) said that while there had been strong achievements in reducing poverty, millions of people continued to suffer from poverty and the root causes had remained unaddressed.  Rethinking and strengthening social development required a new transformative approach that facilitated ways to effectively address existing challenges such as widening inequality, changing population dynamics, increased migration flows and climate change.  The unprecedented migrant and refugee flows had a direct impact on Turkey’s social development agenda.  Continuing its “open door” policy, without any discrimination based on religion or ethnic origin, Turkey was hosting more refugees than any other country.  The total number of Syrians living in Turkey exceeded 2.5 million, she said, noting that the expenditure for addressing their needs had approached $9 billion.  However, bilateral and multilateral contributions were not enough to sustain the needs of refugees, he concluded.

NELLY SHILO (Israel), noting her country’s new membership to the Commission, said “we must create a new reality in which everyone can participate in building their economies”.  She said that whether discussing youth, the elderly, people with disabilities or the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, the responsibility of each State and all stakeholders was to create an integrated society for all individuals everywhere.  Cultivating social consciousness and tolerance was the most effective way to build a flourishing society.  Israel was investing in education, equipping young people with tools to change the status quo:  critical thinking, empathy and compassion.  She looked forward to working with the Commission to improve the rights of persons with disabilities.

MUHAMMAD ANSHOR (Indonesia), aligning himself with the “Group of 77” and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said processes within the global economy had given rise to rapid change and created social tensions.  Social policies to integrate sustainable development must consider geography and locality, as social conditions in rural and urban areas differed.  Social policies to address exclusion and increase participation should focus on developing education, good health and productive skills.  Emphasizing the importance of the family and its empowerment, he said failure to incorporate family policies meant that inequalities and social exclusion would continue to hinder poverty eradication efforts.

MOHAMMED SAHIB MEJID MARZOOQ (Iraq) reiterated his country’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda, which aimed at overcoming the most pressing challenges and ensuring human dignity.  For its part, Iraq had focused on eliminating poverty, providing decent work and protecting human rights.  To achieve that, the Government had initiated a programme to reduce poverty levels through increasing access to public services and providing jobs and adequate housing.  Furthermore, the law guaranteed equal treatment for women and men in all areas, including training, at the workplace and with regard to salaries.  The current legislation reflected his country’s willingness to achieve the Goals, without any discrimination.

FRANCISCO TENYA HASEGAWA (Peru) said the social component of the 2030 Agenda was fundamental for empowering people, particularly the marginalized.  Policy formulation and implementation at the national level were vital for strengthening social development, he said.  For its part, Peru had initiated various social policies, ensuring the inclusion of all segments of the society.  In that regard, his country had managed to reduce poverty levels.  More, however, remained to be done to make further progress, he concluded.

MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ BLANCO (Colombia), associating himself with the “Group of 77”, urged more coherence between national and international efforts to achieve balanced social development, with the Commission better coordinating its work with other relevant forums.  The Commission’s value included advising the Economic and Social Council on implementing international social agreements.  Noting that the implementation of the Copenhagen agreement would go hand in hand with a people-centred approach, he said the Commission was mandated to review the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action.  As such, the 2030 Agenda should not reduce the ambition of aspects outlined in Copenhagen instruments not included among the new Sustainable Development Goals.

SANGWOOK KANG (Republic of Korea) said holistic efforts to achieve people-centred sustainable development included social policies to eradicate poverty, promote full employment and build open, inclusive social institutions.  His country had focused on creating jobs and addressing “growth without employment”, having established a road map to achieve 70 per cent employment that supported access to jobs for low-income and vulnerable groups.  It also had developed a more comprehensive health system and provided both social safety nets and welfare services tailored to every stage of life.

FEDERICO GONZALEZ (Paraguay) said the 2030 Agenda was a universal, inclusive, transformative and people-centred commitment, which took into account social, economic and environmental dynamics.  As a social State based on the rule of law, Paraguay supported all policies and programmes that enabled inclusive economic development and respected human rights.  In that regard, the Government had created a cross-generational strategy, investing in the present and future generations.  Describing widening inequality as a major challenge to overcome, he called upon all stakeholders to work towards achieving inclusive economic growth and equal opportunities that ensured non-exclusion.

WANG MIN (China) said the three core goals of social development – poverty reduction, social integration and full employment — should be advanced in a balanced manner with respect for the autonomy of countries in formulating their own implementation programmes.  Sustainable social development should be realized through reform and innovation and, in that regard, support for developing countries should be intensified.  “Only common development is genuine development,” he said.  In order to implement the 2030 Agenda, his Government had set up an inter-agency coordination mechanism at the national level and was in the process of formulating a number of social development programmes.  In 2016, the country would also put forward an outline of its thirteenth Five-Year Plan on National Economic and Social Development, which would help it “scale new heights” in its endeavour for social development.

MONIKA PACHOUMI (Cyprus) said the financial crisis had underscored the need for more social protection and development services to avoid piecemeal approaches.  Cyprus was working to diversify its economy and while unemployment was high, it was working to decrease it.  Its national action plan for youth employment was based on an ILO study, while reforms to the pension system had ensured its viability through 2060.  Public assistance benefits had been replaced with a single minimum guarantee benefit covering daily health and transport needs.  Health-care reform was under way, notably legislation to support decision-making for persons with disabilities.

DIMITAR DIMITROV and ANINA YOVKOVA, youth delegates from Bulgaria, said their priority was to promote human rights for all and young people’s participation in decision-making at all levels.  Their work also focused on social inclusion and equal access to education for young persons with disabilities.  Social development in the contemporary world would be “unthinkable” without the meaningful participation of all actors and thus, Governments should consider young people as equal partners in global decision-making processes.  In addition, school and university curricula should be adapted to current trends in social, political and economic life.

IRENE SUSAN BARREIRO NATIVIDAD (Philippines) said the implementation of the 2030 Agenda required a unified, coherent, people-centred approach.  The Philippines’ flagship social development programme was the conditional cash transfer plan, which had provided social assistance and financial support to extremely poor families to meet their basic needs and invested in the health and education of poor children.  Under the same programme, the Government had allocated $1.3 billion, reaching 4.6 million.  Furthermore, the Philippines had amended its excise tax legislation in 2012 to generate more resources for social development programmes.  Collections had been channelled to fund public health programmes and revenues had enabled the Government to subsidize the health insurance premiums of 14.7 million people.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam) said that in 2015, Member States had made a global commitment to leave no one behind.  The successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda, therefore, was important to address widening inequality all around the world.  Describing poverty eradication as a persistent global development challenge, she called upon all to step up efforts to address such a phenomenon.  To make progress, she emphasized the importance of undertaking a new approach that ensured that States provided basic social services, including access to income security and health care.

AMINA JOUBLI (Switzerland) said that adding a social dimension to globalization meant devising social protection systems.  As tax evasion and corruption negatively impacted social systems, Switzerland was committed to developing and disseminating economic governance norms to better tailor programmes to partner countries.  She supported the creation of framework conditions that fostered the development of the private sector and social dialogue among Governments, the private sector and trade unions.  She highlighted in that context recommendation No. 202, adopted at the 2012 International Labour Conference, which offered guidance on establishing social protection floors.

KARIMA BARDAOUI (Tunisia), associating herself with the “Group of 77” and the African Group, said social development must be rethought, as the health, energy and food crises had made it difficult for programmes to achieve their objectives.  For its part, Tunisia was working to ensure inclusive development by creating internal dynamics that favoured productivity, retained the highest national standards and attracted better international talent, while ensuring social justice and adequate financing for development.  Quoting Tunisia’s first President, she said that to be a realist was to prefer modest, continuous social reform to a possible miracle.

KAI SAUER (Finland), associating himself with the European Union, said his country was committed to advancing sustainable development, with a national commission established for that aim.  In 2016, Finland would devise a national action plan for the 2030 Agenda.  He urged enhancing multi-stakeholder participation to devise unique solutions, noting that more than 200 measureable commitments had been made by the private and public sectors, cities and private citizens, which could create transformative systemic change and inclusive communities.  Economically sound policies that ensured access to social services were required for sustainable development.  Governments should fulfil their pledges to provide social protection systems, including social protection floors, he concluded.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said in the last two decades, humankind had achieved unprecedented social progress.  Poverty had declined across the world and people were healthier, more educated and better connected than ever before.  Progress, however, had been uneven and social and economic inequalities persisted, and in many cases, had worsened.  Noting that people’s empowerment had been at the heart of his Government’s development agenda, he said the international community could strengthen social development by eliminating all forms of discrimination and extremism and by including in society the excluded people and vulnerable groups.  Investment in human resources and education for both men and women was simply a necessity to strengthen the social development, he said.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) said eradicating poverty and social inequality required a deep transformation of the current economic and political order.  Drawing attention to the need for a new model of relations between the global North and South, he said it should be based on mutual respect for self-determination and cooperation.  For its part, Venezuela had ensured the rights of all, providing a fair distribution of resources.  Furthermore, the Government had invested in an inclusive education system, ensuring the attendance of 97 per cent of the school-age population.

A representative of Baha’i International Community said that by conceiving of development as learning and applying knowledge about the dynamics of social change, the traditional aspects of the development practice could be reframed.  The goal was not only to build a classroom or increase enrolment.  Rather, it was about having a community take ownership of its own people and learning how behaviour patterns conducive to well-being could take root within a population.  In such a model, visions and strategies would be regularly reviewed, obstacles removed, resources multiplied and lessons learned.  However, local learning would remain limited, if unconnected, to global processes.  In that way, the Commission could be a platform for “learning entities” dedicated to the systematization of worldwide experiences.  It could be a platform for sharing the accumulated experiences of a variety of development actors.

For information media. Not an official record.