Conference on social protection in the post-2015 UN Agenda

Conference / Lecture
Mon, 27/04/2015 - 09:00

In the context of the importance given by Belgium to social protection in the post-2015 UN negotiations, the Belgian Federal Public Service Social Security organised, on the 27th of April 2015, in cooperation with the International Labour Organization and the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, a conference on the theme "Social Protection in the Post-2015 Agenda".


The conference offered a high-level exchange between more than 300 representatives from both developing and developed countries, international organizations, academic experts, social partners and civil society organizations.

Moderator of the conference was Ms. Jacki Davis, Journalist and moderator.


Social protection emerged as a core priority in various forums on the post-2015 agenda. The Report of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals reflects the growing importance by including one specific target on social protection and referring to social protection under different proposed goals. The key objective of the conference was to make a clear case of the important role that social protection can and should play in the post-2015 agenda.

Starting from the role of social protection in the post-2015 agenda, the conference discussed, based on the principle of universality and the multidimensional role of social protection, how social protection can be implemented in and through the post-2015 agenda.


Overview of the conference (including the links to the video footage)

Introductory speeches

"Social protection brings hope to people worldwide", Ms. Maggie De Block, Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health.

The Conference was formally opened by Ms. Maggie De Block, Belgian Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health. In her opening speech she stressed the importance of social protection as an investment in the future and indispensable to reach the sustainable development goals. Mr. Nils Behrndt, Head of Cabinet for European Commissioner Neven Mimica, picked up on this last point, referring to the extremely important example of inequalities: "High inequality is detrimental to growth and has adverse effects on social and political stability". Ms. Claire Courteille, Director of the ILO Brussels Office and Mr. Tom Auwers, Director General of the organising Belgian Federal Public Service Social Security both pointed out that, although being a human right, social protection is still a faraway dream for three quarters of the world. Mr. Auwers stressed that the conference is mainly about these five billion people that, almost 67 years after the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights, are still deprived of adequate social protection. Today is about making the business case to convince the unconvinced. 

Videos of speeches:

Key-note speech by Ms. B. Frankinet: State of play of the Post-2015 UN negotiations and the place of Social Protection therein

Next up, Ms. Bénédicte Frankinet, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the UN in New York, gave an overview of the state of play of the post-2015 negotiations. During her speech she pointed out the main differences with the MDG's. The MDG's were the result of a very technocratic process and focused on developing countries, whilst the SDG's will have clear ownership by all countries and will be universally applicable.

One of the challenges that will definitely remain is the integration of the three dimensions into each goal and during implementation in the future. She also addressed the crucial negotiations on financing for development that will be taking place in Addis Ababa this summer, a year earlier than foreseen, exactly to provide answers before the September summit on the post-2015 agenda.

In some personal observations she welcomed the strong focus on reducing inequalities and discussed some challenges that remain: lack of reliable and disaggregated data and integration of innovative elements (green economy for example) and the availability of sustainable technology. Last but not least she explained the role of Belgium as co-chair, together with Angola, of the Group of Friends on Decent Work. She stated that "through the cooperation with ILO, in particular, we have managed to move a lot of issues that were primarily discussed in Geneva to the attention of New York".

Expert Panel: Why social protection in the post-2015 UN agenda?

The first expert panel of the day reassembled Ms. Isabel Ortiz (Keynote), Director Social Protection of the ILO, Ms. Keetie Roelen, Co-Director Centre for Social Protection at the Institute of Development Studies, Mr. Rudi Delarue, Deputy Head of Unit at DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission andMs. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Senior Research Fellow at the UN Research Institute for Social Development.

Ms. Ortiz kicked off by saying that it is time to be ambitious as the decisions in 2015 will guide us until 2030. Commenting on convincing the unconvinced, Ms. Roelen pointed out that there is still a lot of work to convince, for instance, Ministries of Finance but especially the general public where a lot of misconceptions still reign about people who receive certain benefits. Mr. Delarue stated that social protection and decent work are the best instruments to combat poverty. Asked what's so specific about a "rights-based approach", Ms. Sepúlveda Carmona explained that it's about moving from charity to entitlement, from beneficiaries to right-holders, but also about governments being accountable for what they do. On the linkages of social protection with other goals and targets, Ms. Ortiz responded that of course these linkages are there, but that social protection should be considered as a pillar in itself, just like education.

High Level Panel on the major challenges of social protection in the post-2015 agenda

"Without social protection every progress on development level will be undone", Ms. Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

"Social protection is the knot of a lot of other different sustainable development goals", Mr. Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation, Digital Agenda, Telecom and Postal Services.

"Social protection is not just a temporary phase of development, it's a permanent phenomenon. The reason that some of the most advanced economies of the world are successful is because they have integrated social protection." Mr. Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO.

Minister De Croo repeated that access to social protection for all by 2030 is feasible, but that it will depend entirely on political will, that the first focus should be on the least developed countries and that the establishment of social protection systems will go step-by-step. Ms. Clark started off by underlining the important role of social protection. Social protection is fundamental to the development process and is, in itself, a means of implementation.

Without it there will be no sustainable development. Mr. Ryder talked about the misperception that social protection is a rich countries' phenomenon. Developed countries started with social protection policies when they weren't as rich as they are now. He also stressed that speaking about an investment is not a slogan, but is real.

For every dollar spent on social protection, studies show that between 1,8 and 2,5 flow back through multiplier effects in increased production. On the financing discussion, Minister De Croo pointed out that social protection systems cannot and should not be financed by ODA. This was concurred by Helen Clark who said that ODA will need to be catalytic, as the amount of ODA is far less than what is esteemed to be needed for social protection systems.

Rich countries will, however, need to help out in capacity building, needed to improve taxation systems. Step-by-step also the informal sector should be formalised, as, like Minister De Croo mentioned, in some countries 95% of the economy is informal.

All three agreed that more coordination is needed. Minister De Croo explained that we don't start from a blank page but that we should reflect on who does what: maybe we should think about reintroducing the separation of normative institutions and organizations working on the ground. We should however not overload the negotiations and have this discussion at its proper time. Mr. Ryder added that merely having one agenda will force the international landscape to coordinate more.

Expert Panel: Financing and implementation of social protection systems

The second expert panel of the day reassembled Mr. Ruslan Yemtsov (Keynote), Global Lead for Social Safety Nets and Transfers, World Bank Group, Ms. Anne Drouin, Chief Public Finance, Actuarial Services and Statistics, ILO, Mr. Fabio Veras, Research Coordinator, International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth and Ms. Francesca Bastagli, Head of Social Protection Programme, Overseas Development Institute.

Mr. Yemtsov highlighted the complexity of implementing social protection. Although universal coverage is widely accepted, how to get there is less obvious. Ms. Drouin pointed out that universality of coverage is absolute and should not be conditional to availability of resources. With regard to monitoring Mr. Yemtsov pointed out that we don't have sufficient data. In 57 countries there have not been household surveys for over 10 years. Mr. Veras pointed out practical problems: in Africa, cash transfers are often so tiny that they don't even show up in household surveys. In response, Anne Drouin pointed out that ILO started the social security inquiry in 1949 and that today it has comparable and reliable data for most countries. Ms. Bastagli underlined that we should be careful when putting targeting policies at a universal level. She also stressed the importance of having both administrative data and household surveys and that the post-2015 framework is an excellent incentive to reduce the data gaps.

With regard to the financing challenge, there was agreement that ODA should be especially used to kick-start social protection systems and to build up capacity. Fabio Veras repeated what was earlier said by Ms. Ortiz: during the crisis, in contrast with developed countries, spending on social protection in middle-income countries was increased.

He also mentioned the importance of south-south learning in further progress. Ruslan Yemtsov underlined the positive evolutions. Today 40 African countries have sizeable cash transfer programmes which is a huge advancement in 5-10 years. Francesca Bastagli discussed the need to improve tax systems and Ms. Drouin stated that we know what needs to be done. We don't need to wait further research, but should gather the resources and get the job done.

Social partners and civil society panel: creation of support base

During the panel, Ms. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of ITUC, stressed the important role of social dialogue in the establishment of social protection systems and the crucial role of public services in organising them. She also referred to the fact that whilst 75% of the world has no access to social protection, global GDP increased tenfold over the last 40 years. Mr. Roberto Suarez-Santos, Deputy Secretary General of IOE, accentuated the support of employers of the social protection floor recommendation. One of the crucial elements is that it supports the middle and long term sustainability of investment.

The key element to convince general public and businesses is to make the business case for social protection and stress the multiplier effect. Mr. Bogdan Vanden Berghe, director of 11.11.11, focussed on the need of mobilisation and communication on social protection. There is a need to help civil society in the South to get organised and push for universal social protection.

Final reflexions in the light of the conference by Mr. Oliver De Schutter

Professor De Schutter emphasised the new focus on inequalities within and among countries as one of the major changes from the MDG's to the SDG's. He came back on some of the challenges to finance and implement social protection for all: capacity of poorer countries, limited budgets and the resilience of many economies towards shocks. He underlined the need for an international mechanism to finance social protection floors. Not only to kick-start social protection systems in countries that do not have the funds for it, but also to insure countries against the risks of external shocks.

He pointed out the interesting period we are in: a lot of countries are moving from temporary safety nets to standing social protection systems that are rights-based.

For more information, please contact:


Policy Advisor International Relations
FPS Social Security – DG Strategy and Research
+32 (0)470 13 07 05