EU outlines strategy to strengthen social protection policies

Counselors help Sri Lankan refugees deal with gender violence. The European Commission has released a communique that explains how EU development aid can strengthen social protection policies and systems. Photo by: Arjun Claire / EC / ECHO / CC BY-SA

The European Commission has released a communique that explains how EU development aid can strengthen social protection policies and systems — its first on the topic. The communication includes proposals such as supporting nationally owned policies, engaging civil society and the private sector, and addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability, especially among women.

These proposals emerged after a broad public consultation process involving more than 250 stakeholders and 17 member states, and will be discussed by EU development ministers and the European Parliament in coming months.

The consultation and communication are in line with partnerships created at last year’s Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, which recognized inequality as a development challengeIn Busan, development actors other than traditional donors, such as civil society and the private sector, were endorsed as an integral part of a more inclusive development agenda. The Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation also called for partner governments to contribute more money toward their own development instead of relying on foreign aid to reduce poverty.

The goal of EU development cooperation in supporting social protection is to reduce poverty that both results from and causes marginalization and exclusion. The European Union wants to improve social inclusion as an essential underpinning of poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth.

“By increasing equity — e.g.through social transfers and increased access to basic social services — and providing protection against risk, social protection can support poverty reduction and inclusive growth, as well as supporting social cohesion and stability,” the communique said.

Developing countries, which tend to have a low income tax base and highly segmented social insurance systems that benefit just a small minority, spend on average a quarter of what developed economies do on social protection.

The term social protection encompasses policies and actions that enhance the capacity of the poor and vulnerable to avoid or escape poverty, and those that provide social security through income and access to essential services like health and education.

The communication pointed to the following actions that EU development partners could cooperate on with the goal of operationalizing the vision of social protection:

  • Develop nationally owned social protection policies and programs that result in wider and more effective coverage, instead of offering social protection that is selective and short-term.

  • Increase the tax base that can be used to fund social protection by creating effective, efficient, fair and sustainable tax systems in line with each country’s capacity.

  • Provide technical assistance and cooperation to help countries establish appropriate legal and institutional frameworks for upholding social protection as a human right.

  • Continue to support the administrative and implementation capacities of governments, implementing agencies and other partners at every level, and build good governance and public finance management to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, and promote accountability.

  • Facilitate south-south cooperation, drawing from EU members’ diverse experiences with social protection issues and implementation. Existing tools such as the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange should be used to enable rapid, demand-driven deployment of experts — European or otherwise — to assist and advise.

  • Help national governments start employment programs, create jobs and support entrepreneurs, especially among vulnerable and marginalized groups. While social protection is derived in large part by participating in the formal workforce in developed countries, the informal labor conditions in many developing countries cry out for custom and innovative approaches to social protection.

  • Use the EU initiative on Corporate Social Responsibility to support developing countries’ private sector in partnering with government to implant international guidelines for inclusive, sustainable growth.

  • Bring civil society in to advocate for social protection, and empower communities and individuals by raising awareness and improving information.

  • Pay special attention to women’s risks and vulnerabilities as well as their ability to access employment opportunities and the burden of care placed on them when developing policies and programs, in order to make sure men and women benefit equally from social protection schemes.

  • Conduct more operational research on good practices within social protection.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.