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Intersessional panel discussion on the right to social security

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1 November 2021

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Human Rights Council
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

1 November 2021

Distinguished Vice President of the Council,
Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

This is an important discussion – the Human Rights Council's first deep dive into the universal right to social security.
There could not be a better time to discuss social security and social protection. 

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis, and the changing world of work, make realizing this right a matter of the utmost urgency.

Due to the pandemic, 255 million jobs have been lost in 2020 alone. Gaps in coverage of social protection systems, and inadequate social protection benefits, contributed to the inequalities that accelerated and deepened the impacts of COVID-19.

Social security facilitates access to health care, protects people against poverty and ensures essential economic and social rights, including food, water, housing, health and education.

States clearly recognised this in 2020, when they responded to the pandemic with unprecedented social protection measures to mitigate its social, economic and health impacts. 

From Malawi to Peru, the Philippines, Finland and the United States – and in many other countries in between – Governments swiftly expanded their social assistance programmes by introducing new cash transfers to many people who are typically excluded from assistance – including informal workers, most of them women and freelancers, many of whom work in the growing gig economy. 

In Argentina and Bolivia, for example, domestic resources were mobilised to advance more progressive taxation systems – creating wider fiscal space for social protection.

But many of those measures were temporary. And in every region, a lot more needs to be done to make the right to social security a reality for all. 

According to the ILO's World Social Protection Report, more than half of the world’s population has no social protection coverage, currently. Only 26% of children globally receive social protection benefits; fewer than half of women with new-borns worldwide receive cash maternity benefits; and only around 30% of people with severe disabilities receive disability benefits.

The ongoing transition towards a green economy and the introduction of new technologies in the world of work are also shifting the landscape of work, especially for those most disadvantaged. Social security is an essential toolkit to help workers navigate these changes – and builds invaluable resilience for the economy overall.

Dear colleagues,

Social security is a fundamental human right – indispensable for the exercise of many other rights and necessary for a life in dignity. Its content can guide States in designing comprehensive social protection systems, helping them move from the temporary and ad hoc measures of the initial months of the COVID-19 crisis to longer-term policies that support sustainable, resilient societies.

Renewing solidarity – within every society, and between nations – is a cornerstone of the Secretary-General’s Common Agenda, which aims to combat inequality and guide how to recover better from the pandemic.

International cooperation to assist less developed countries to step up their social protection systems is essential – and will benefit all.

My Office is working to advance well-designed and human rights-based social protection systems, the prioritisation of healthcare budgets, and broader participation by healthcare workers and communities in implementing social protection schemes.

We are actively supporting countries to ensure that everyone – including women, older people, members of minority communities, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, migrants, and LGBTI people – can access social protection, well beyond COVID-19.

The pandemic teaches us that it is essential for States to support universal social protection – everywhere. 

Social protection systems are not a drain on resources: they are an invaluable investment in sound societies. 

I wish you a productive and enriching discussion.

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