Building social protection floor for all


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Social security is a universally recognized human right. It is defined as an individual’s protection from risks associated with sickness, disability, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, old age, death, unaffordable health care and insufficient family support.  The 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights declares it is the duty of every Member State to guarantee and realize the economic, social and cultural rights of everyone in society “in accordance with the organization and resources of each State”. According to the UN Declaration, these are indispensable in securing the dignity of every citizen and “the free development of his personality” (Article 22).

The above UN call for universal social security resonates in the Philippine Constitution.  The charter mandates (under “State Policies”, Section 9, Article II) the State to “promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all”.

In brief, social security or social protection is deeply tied to the overall socio-economic development strategy that the country is pursuing.  In line with this, the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), in their seminal book Reforming the Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy (2017), is batting for a “comprehensive, universal and transformative social protection”.  NAPC seeks a bold re-thinking of the existing anti-poverty program, which treats the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) as the nation’s “centerpiece” program in combatting poverty.  NAPC labels CCT and other social protection programs in place as “residual”, meaning “they simply serve to mitigate some of the worst impacts of macroeconomic policies, without interrogation of the main development strategy that led to increased poverty in the first place”.

This is why NAPC wants poverty eradication to be the “centerpiece of economic, social and environmental policies”.  This means a shift away from the dominant neoliberal policy that has been in place since the 1980s. This neoliberal policy has stunted industrial and agricultural development, which is the reason for the persistence of mass unemployment and mass poverty in the country, exacerbated by widening social and economic inequality among income classes.

As to social protection for the excluded majority, especially the extremely poor, the government often reduces this to a question of how much funds can be allocated to the various anti-poverty programs such as credit assistance for livelihood projects, skills training for out-of-school youth and CCT for poor mothers with school-age children.  Laudable as they are and beneficial they may be to a limited number of beneficiaries, they have not altered the unequal structure of the economy and the labor market.

The ideal is to have a society and economy where majority, if not all, of the workers enjoy secure or regular well-paying jobs that are amply protected by law.  According to Reforming Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy, the solution lies in the genuine structural transformation of the economy, including agriculture but especially industrial production, where the country: 1) uses its natural resources to create decent work and increase incomes for the majority of Filipinos in a sustainable manner; 2) generates an economic surplus for the public sector’s needs, including the provision of social and economic services, and for reinvestment in the economy, and 3) distributes the benefits of growth under more equitable economic relations”.

In brief, the existing neoliberal macroeconomic policies “need to be radically shifted, away from reckless trade and investment liberalization and towards active government support for Filipino enterprises and the workforce”.

NAPC is also pushing for a “comprehensive, universal and transformative social protection policy” as part of the overall program of social and economic structural transformation.  According to the NAPC’s lead writer on social protection, Marivic Raquiza, a universal social protection policy is an affirmation of social protection as a right, not as a charity.  It makes social protection redistributive while promoting social cohesion.  In contrast, the present CCT program tends to pit the targeted or “listed” extremely poor versus the excluded “near poor” and other poor, including the deserving poor who fail to make the “list” simply because they are invisible to the LGUs and DSWD and/or they do not have the necessary ATM cards.

Comprehensive social protection means protection of the minimum decent living standards of the citizens.  This requires the State to develop a set of social security guarantees to reduce or alleviate poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion.  This means guaranteed access to essential health care and maternity care as well as basic income security for the children (to cover needed nutrition, education, care and other services) and basic income security for the elderly and those unable to earn sufficient income.

And yes, social protection policy should be transformative for it should support the delivery of social services and social protection that all Filipinos need, the poor in particular, to become active and productive participants in the transformation of the economy towards a balanced, inclusive and sustainable path.

The foregoing concept of a universal, comprehensive and transformative social protection policy is more or less aligned with the program on social security for all that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has been pushing. According to the ILO, all countries have the capacity to develop social protection for all if they have the political will.  Budget-wise, this means budgetary allocations of not less than six percent equivalent of a nation’s GDP (in contrast, in the advanced welfare states, social protection spending is around 20 percent or more equivalent of the GDP).

Universal and comprehensive social protection coverage also means the development of a combination of programs for different sectors of society based on their capacity to contribute to the system of social security.  The limited number of self-employed and almost zero number of informals who are enrolled in the Social Security System are due primarily to the inability of the self-employed to cover the full amount of the SSS premium (which, in the formal labor market, is shared by the employer and the worker) and the even greater incapacity of the informals with marginal incomes to contribute anything.  This is why the State should and must come in to provide the needed subsidy or outright social assistance.

Of course, establishing a universal, comprehensive and transformative social protection system will not be easy.  But as the ILO Recommendation 202 of 2012 puts it, all stakeholders in society should be able to sit down, hold social dialogue and collaborate in the design and implementation of a “national social protection floor”. And like in the Social Development Goals (SDGs), each country should have a program for the “progressive realization” of universal, comprehensive and transformative social protection, with concrete targets and time frames.

Finally, the design of the universal, comprehensive and transformative social protection policy and program should be aligned or coherent with the country’s social, economic and employment policies. This is what this column has been articulating repeatedly.  This is also the message of ILO Recommendation 202 and NAPC’s Reforming the Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy.