Asia-Pacific countries endorse action plan to strengthen social protection

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region have today endorsed an action plan pledging to collectively step up regional cooperation for social protection – a timely move as governments are striving to protect people from unprecedented economic and social development setbacks wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The action plan was endorsed at the Sixth Session of the Committee on Social Development, hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) this week. It serves as an overarching framework for action at the national level and develops a regional platform to strengthen knowledge and capacity for broadening effective social protection coverage.

“To counter the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, many member States have strengthened existing social protection schemes and sometimes introduced new, ad hoc measures. In times of socio-economic crisis, social protection is our society’s primary line of defence,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana in her opening remarks.

She further underscored, “We need to invest in comprehensive social protection systems and to monitor our progress in achieving relevant targets of the 2030 Agenda to ensure an inclusive, resilient, and prosperous Asia-Pacific.”

The regional action plan on social protection provides countries with a shared vision, strategy and platform for promoting partnership, peer learning as well as identifying needs for technical assistance. The plan further aims to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by including those at risk of being left behind.

“As we continue to tread unknown and uncertain grounds, the Committee provided an opportunity to forge ways to strengthen social protection as a key instrument for building resilience. The region is facing unprecedented demographic shifts which has resulted in profound impact on sustainable development. In addition, COVID-19 has affected all population groups in the region, with those in vulnerable situations at particular risk of being impacted such as older persons, women, persons with disabilities and migrants. This vulnerability is not inevitable,” said H.E. Ms. Samantha K. Jayasuriya, Ambassador of Sri Lanka, who served as the Chair of the Sixth Session.

The Committee also endorsed an indicator framework for monitoring progress towards the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development. Adoption of the framework means that the progress toward these commitments will now be measurable.

Both commitments address fundamental inequalities in access to health, education, and social protection, emphasize the value of investing in women and girls and strengthen access to sexual and reproductive health. The indicator framework can be used for voluntary national reviews (VNRs) and supports governments in designing specific policies that will eventually reduce inequalities in access to health, education and social protection.

Levels of social protection coverage remain strikingly low in Asia and the Pacific, with just over half the population having no access to any social protection scheme. Insufficient investments in social protection has proven a persistent reason for these gaps. The pandemic has further perpetuated pre-existing inequalities, including gender inequalities.

The Committee’s thematic focus on social protection follows the launch of ESCAP and ILO’s Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific 2020: The Protection We Want last week. The Outlook is the first-ever regional report on social protection in Asia and the Pacific, which evidences that well-managed social protection systems have been far better equipped to respond to the unexpected and shielding the most vulnerable.