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Universal social security can reduce poverty and inequality: new collaboration with Human Rights Watch


Development Pathways has collaborated with Human Rights Watch on a new question-and-answer document, which offers clarity on the often misunderstood topic of universal social security. The new release also calls on governments and international lenders to create and support systems in accordance with their human rights obligations.

Amid intersecting conflicts, economic crises, and climate shocks, governments’ long-term investment in universal social security is more important than ever. The piece explains the basics of universal social security, how it can reduce and prevent poverty and inequality and protect human rights, including in times of crisis, and how governments can overcome impediments to providing it.

“Social security is a key tool for governments to reduce inequality and protect people from experiencing poverty, hunger, or homelessness,” said Lena Simet, senior researcher on poverty and inequality at Human Rights Watch. “The compounding economic, food, and climate crises should move governments to build security systems that protect human rights, not cut back on existing programs.”

More than four billion people lack access to any social protection – the term often used by United Nations agencies and international development organizations. This lack of coverage is most concentrated in low- and middle-income countries, which face significant financing gaps between their current investments and what is needed to support a basic level of social security.

The question-and-answer document puts forward the human rights obligations and responsibilities of governments and entities that influence social spending, and the importance of universal social security to meeting them.

“Universal, rights-aligned social security systems are much more effective than poverty-targeted systems at reducing poverty and achieving more equitable outcomes for all members of society,” said Dr Stephen Kidd, Development Pathways’ CEO. “And, they are more likely to support economic growth and strengthen progressive social contracts, meaning that they are also more sustainable, both financially and politically.”

Social security for all members of a society is both a human right and a necessary condition for the realisation of other economic, social and cultural rights. International law obligates governments to provide social security as well as to ensure access to quality public services essential to human rights, such as education, health care, water, and sanitation.