Message by Juan Somavia for International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Statement | Geneva, Switzerland | 17 October 2011

This year’s theme “from poverty to sustainability: people at the centre of inclusive development” is most timely. At a time of crisis, the human cost of inefficient patterns of growth becomes all the more acute and all the more evident.

The lot of too many is joblessness or a never ending struggle in the informal economy; hunger and malnutrition; ill health and premature death – a cycle of perpetual disadvantage. Many manage to get by in normal times but are thrown into poverty by just one life crisis.

Such phenomena are not confined to the developing world. Growing human insecurity and a widespread sense of diminishing social cohesion send a strong message that it is time to concentrate on inclusive, fair and job-friendly economic growth processes as the foundation of economic and social sustainability.

Decent work is a productive path to inclusion and the sustainable route out of poverty. It requires financial policies that support investment in the real economy and especially in the small- and medium-sized enterprises which generate jobs. Moving from poverty to sustainability also calls for the defence of fundamental principles and rights at work that exclude child labour, forced labour and discrimination and allow for organization and voice which enable people living in poverty to mobilize and become active agents in shaping their future. Last but not least, social and economic sustainability must be built on human security through investment in social protection.

Social protection that assures basic income security and access to essential social services among other things allows children to go to school, assures food security, and equips women and men to work out of poverty.

Social protection protects, empowers and helps to sustain demand. To date, access to comprehensive social protection is a reality for just one fifth of the global population. However, a strong international consensus is emerging around the development potential of national social protection floors. Their realization will require inputs from many sources and will demand solidarity nationally and internationally.

The United Nations Social Protection Floor Initiative, under the joint leadership of the ILO and the WHO, brought together the UN system and the development community to promote the developmental role of social protection. The report of the Advisory Group led by Ms Michelle Bachelet shows that social protection floors are necessary, feasible and effective in a wide range of circumstances.

The MDG Summit in September 2010 recognized the key importance of social protection policies as a means of accelerating the achievement of the MDGs. G20 labour and employment ministers have called for nationally defined floors in strategies for achieving strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth and social cohesion and G20 finance and development ministers have pointed to the need to support such floors in low income countries. At the International Labour Conference of June 2011, government, employer and worker delegates from the ILO’s member States undertook to promote the rapid implementation of national social protection floors and next year they will go on to discuss a possible international standard to guide efforts in building these floors. The ILO contributes its world of work agenda to the development of social protection floors as an investment in the security and well-being of all workers of the formal and informal economy and their families, unlocking their productive capacity and increasing productivity.

Today, guided by our precept that “poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere”, we re-commit to promoting social protection as an instrument of poverty eradication and the achievement of patterns of growth that are economic and socially sustainable.