A new report by the United Nations’ regional arm, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), is calling on countries across Asia and the Pacific to beef up their spending on people, pointing out how greater investment in social protection can be a game changer for ending poverty.
The report, Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific – Poorly Protected, offers new evidence for increasing investment in people in the Asia-Pacific region: around 328 million people would be lifted out of moderate poverty and 52 million people out of extreme poverty, with more countries fully eradicating poverty by 2030, if countries raised their investment in education, health care and social protection to reach the global average. Countries would also see an increase in their GDP growth together with reduced income inequalities.
The report notes that, in developing countries in the region, spending on social protection amounts to less than one-third of the global average of 11.2 per cent of GDP. This shortfall leaves 60 per cent of the region’s people unprotected against risks such as sickness, disability and unemployment, but also during pregnancy or old age.
This underinvestment is also the main reason why more than one quarter of all people in the region still live in poverty, six in ten people lack access to affordable health care, one in two rely on unclean fuels and close to one in three lack access to basic sanitation.
Launching the study at the Fifth Session of the Committee on Social Development, held by ESCAP from 28 to 30 November, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and ESCAP Executive Secretary Ms. Armida Alisjahbana underscored that despite significant progress on many levels, large swathes of the region’s population, especially rural communities, women, migrants, older person and persons with disabilities, remain trapped in poverty, vulnerability and marginalisation.
“Our region has affirmed its commitment to social protection at both global and regional levels, yet while investments in social protections have increased over the past two decades, it remains the preserve of a few, rather than a right for all,” she added.
The report finds that the region needs an additional investment of $281 billion per year to match global spending levels on social protection as a share of GDP, of which the bulk is needed in the region’s two most populous countries, China and India. It further points out that a country’s level of economic development is not a reason for low social investments.
“Governments with higher political commitment to social investments not only spend a higher share of their budget on their people’s development, but tend to spend more effectively with better outcomes as a result.” The study cites examples of low- and lower-middle income countries that have been successful first movers in this regard including Bhutan, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The thematic focus of the study underscored much of the discussions at the biennial Committee meeting, where ESCAP member States discussed ways to strengthen regional cooperation on social protection. ESCAP will take the lead in supporting member States to develop a modality for regional cooperation in coordination with relevant UN agencies.