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Role of universal social protection in promoting inclusion underlined by United Nations

Armenia is one nation to have made strides in improving social protection coverage for persons with disabilities

The United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs has just released its flagship report on the World Social Situation 2018 which, this year, examines social protection and its role in promoting social inclusion.

The report examines social protection through the lens of categories of the population at risk of social exclusion. These include: children, young people, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous people and ethnic minorities. For each category, the report examines the risks and disadvantages faced, outlines the gaps in social protection coverage, describes the barriers that have to be overcome and makes recommendations on how to improve access.

The report notes that, while investment in social protection can have major impacts on wellbeing and contribute to economic growth, still only 29 per cent of the global population enjoys comprehensive coverage. As a result, many countries are missing out on the benefits of investing in social protection.

One of the big success stories in recent years has been the growth in old age pensions: by 2016 close to 68 per cent of older persons were in receipt of a pension and the number continues to grow as more and more countries introduce similar schemes (with Kenya’s introduction of its universal Inua Jamii pension, the most recent example). Nonetheless, there are still many countries where citizens can have no expectation of income security in old age – although the debate is growing, as in Indonesia.

However, coverage of other categories of the population is still low. Only 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities receive disability benefits, no more than 35 per cent of children access social protection, and just 22 per cent of unemployed workers received unemployment benefits. These are major gaps.

On a positive note, the report highlights that several low- and middle-income countries have made  strides in improving disability benefits coverage, with some, such as Armenia (pictured), achieving universal or near-universal coverage of persons with disabilities.

It is also gratifying to see in the report that UN-DESA accepts that the best way to ensure access to social protection is through an inclusive lifecycle approach. As the report notes: “Universal programmes — available to all without conditions — are most likely to ensure inclusion and non-discrimination.” And, if targeting is used, it adds, it should be “approached as a complement to — rather than a substitute for — universal schemes”.

The report is a great read and is packed full of evidence. We highly recommend it.

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