COVID-19 crisis highlights need to transform global economy, says new UN poverty expert

By agency reporter
May 5, 2020

The economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic emphasises the need to invest heavily in a greener economy to create jobs and reduce inequalities, said Olivier De Schutter, who on 1 May 2020  became the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

"The COVID-19 crisis is an urgent call for action. If we make the right choices now, it will be an opportunity to transform our society into a more inclusive and equal one", he said.

With a projected fall in per capita income in more than 170 countries, people without social protection will be worst hit, De Schutter said. Worldwide, about four billion people have no social protection coverage and those in precarious employment, including the 2 billion workers in the informal sector, are often the first to lose their jobs.

"In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, we must move away from a development paradigm that puts economic growth first, while hoping to wipe out the environmental damages and to compensate for the social impacts of increased inequalities afterwards. The model of growth itself should incorporate environmental sustainability and social justice from the start", said the expert. 

"In times of crisis of this magnitude, the pledge made within the International Labour Organisation to implement universal social protection floors is ever more relevant and critical", De Schutter added.

The UN expert said social security programmes should be regarded as an investment, not a cost. "There are considerable benefits to society from investing in early childhood and social protection schemes that prevent low-income families from falling into poverty, if the recession is to be overcome."

Moreover, the financing of social protection is affordable: "On average, the cost of financing a full set of benefits included in social protection floors represent 4.2 per cent of GDP on average for 57 low-income and lower-middle-income countries. This is the best investment a country can make for its future", De Schutter said.

States have committed at least $8 trillion to defend against the economic impacts of COVID-19. This should be directed towards building a more inclusive economy based on the rights to work and to social security, as well as the rights to adequate housing, healthcare and education.  

"Extreme poverty is not about a lack of income alone, or faults of individuals or families. It's about political choices that exclude, discriminate and marginalise people", De Schutter said.

As Special Rapporteur for the next three years, De Schutter will explore a range of thematic issues, including how universal social protection floors can be implemented through both domestic resources and international support.

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


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