To most European citizens having easy and immediate access to medical services, to education, and to other forms of social protection, such as pensions or unemployment support, may seem like obvious rights. They protect us against sudden shocks like serious illness or natural disasters and life-cycle processes, such as ageing. Without this protective cushion most people would be condemned to a precarious existence with a constant risk of falling into poverty. Yet for millions of people in the world it would still be considered a luxury. Currently only 20 percent of the world’s working-age population have access to comprehensive social protection, including the basic ingredients of social security –income security and access to healthcare – , and only one third of the world’s countries (home to less than 30% of the world’s population) have comprehensive social protection systems. What’s more, developing countries spend a much smaller proportion of their budgets than advanced economies do on social protection and their budgets as a whole are, of course, much smaller. As a result the world’s poorest people are even more vulnerable and less able to cope with things like the financial crisis or rises in food prices.
I am convinced that without a basic level of social protection, the development of emerging and developing countries cannot be sustainable in the long term. At the same time, investing in social protection can be a smart way to reduce poverty and vulnerability. When I presented the Agenda for Change for increasing the impact of EU development policy, I made it clear that the fight against poverty should be based on inclusive and sustainable economic growth: the key word was “inclusive”, which implies that the fruits of wealth must be fairly shared and benefit the whole population. As a matter of fact, development cannot be seen as sustainable if it is put at stake by the possibility of shocks or life-cycle risks – such as illness, unemployment, natural disasters, disability and old-age. We have to make sure people receive the basic guarantees offered by social protection systems in order to allow them to escape from poverty and to prevent those who have escaped from falling back into poverty when faced with life’s ups and downs. This is why I launched a broad consultation to reflect on how EU development policy could support emerging and poorest countries to set up national social protection systems, adapting the tools and measures to their specific situations. It follows the 2010 European Report on Development, which calls for social protection to be made an integral part of EU development policy, and responds to recent Council Conclusions and European Parliament resolutions calling on the Commission to prepare a proposal on social protection.
The result of this process is to be found today in the Communication on Social Protection in EU Development cooperation. It sets out a clear agenda for action, such as supporting nationally-owned policies and programmes, introducing measures to support job creation and employment, supporting revenue reform for increased fiscal space, bringing in civil society and the private sector, and tackling the underlying causes of vulnerability – particularly those that affect women, such as those associated with maternity.
EU aid already contributes to financing a wide variety of measures such as cash transfer schemes, public work programmes, school lunches, social care services, unemployment or disability benefits, and food vouchers - in the poorest of our partner countries.
As more and more countries get on the road to growth, it’s clear that better and more social protection is needed to make sure that its benefits can be enjoyed by all sections of society rather than the few. I hope that this new communication will be a significant step in the right direction.