Investments in Quality Education, Decent Work Key to Spurring Inclusive Growth, Speakers Stress as Social Development Commission Continues Session

Investing in quality education and decent work is among the most effective ways to spur inclusive socioeconomic growth and reduce poverty and inequality, delegates said today as the fifty-seventh session of the Commission for Social Development continued.

Throughout the day, speakers shared their national experiences in tackling poverty and inequalities, which deprive vulnerable groups of their opportunities to enjoy their rights.

In Pakistan, a conditional cash transfer programme seeks to expand education to all and has already benefited some 2 million children, its representative said, adding that youth bulge provides the country with a unique opportunity to harness demographic dividends.

Italy's delegate said her country recognizes the multifaceted added value of the increased participation of young people in all aspects of society, as it views them as agents of change, the flywheel of development and natural peacebuilders. Quality formal and informal education considerably facilitates youth development and reduces the number of those not in education, employment or training.

Echoing that view, youth delegates from Bulgaria stressed that quality education should focus not only on knowledge, but also skills that will make young people employable. It is vital to ensure that young people, including persons with disabilities, acquire up-to-date skills in a rapidly changing world so that they can find meaningful employment and play an active role as citizens of democratic society, they said.

In Sri Lanka, youth skills development is a critical component in the country's policy framework, its delegate said. At the United Nations, Sri Lanka is among the main sponsors of World Youth Skills Day, he added.

Qatar's delegate said his Government provides subsidies to entities and companies that create job opportunities for young people in the Arab world, underscoring the need to combat extremism.

Speakers also discussed strategies to improve the lot of other vulnerable groups, such as women, older persons, migrants and refugees, and persons with disabilities.

We cannot talk about addressing inequality without gender parity and equal pay for women, said Costa Rica's delegate, outlining measures his Government is undertaking.

Iraq's delegate said more than 3 million refugees have recently returned home, and many are women, children and persons with disabilities, who are still suffering the impact of having been harmed or exploited by terrorists. In response, Iraq is providing both material assistance and support and is implementing laws aimed at empowering women and girls.

Several delegations stressed the need to reform the Commission, with the United States representative pointing out that the body was the first of its kind but has not evolved as it should over the years and is meeting just to meet. Moreover, she said that the Commission can accomplish its work in shortened annual sessions.

In other business, Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Policy of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, provided an update on the Division's 2020 programme of work, saying it will be subject to the United Nations soon-to-be-finalized programme budget.

The Commission also nominated Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim (United Arab Emirates), Ha-Joon Chang (Republic of Korea), Shalini Randeria (India) and Imraan Valodia (South Africa) to the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, for a four-year term beginning after confirmation by the Economic and Social Council, but no sooner than 1 July 2019, expiring on 30 June 2023. Additionally, the Commission proposed that the term of Saraswathi Menon (India) be extended by two years until 30 June 2021.

Paul Ladd, Director of the Institute, introduced the report of the Board on the work of the Institute during 2017 and 2018, as contained in document E/CN.5/2019/8.

Also speaking were representatives of the Republic of Moldova, Morocco, Serbia, Kenya, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Algeria, Slovenia, Guinea, India, Turkey, Hungary, Cabo Verde, Benin, El Salvador, Maldives, Colombia, Guatemala, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iran, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sweden, Cuba, Bolivia, Indonesia, Nepal, Jamaica, Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Egypt, Brazil, Nicaragua, Mali, Azerbaijan and Namibia.

Observers for the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta, as well as a representative of the non-governmental organization Doha International Family Institute (speaking on behalf of several other non-governmental organizations), also delivered statements.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 February, to continue its work.

Statements

MARIN CEBOTARI (Republic of Moldova) said that his country has adopted a long-term sustainable development plan, namely the national development strategy Moldova 2030 at the end of 2018. Its objective number 6 is sustainable and inclusive social protection system. His country has a solid legal framework in social inclusion and combating inequality. The number of persons living below poverty line decreased 21.9 per cent to 9.6 per cent from 2010 to 2015. The year 2018 marked a shift in fiscal policy by stimulating business and economic growth and ensuring that those receiving minimum wages do not end up as net payers. Income taxes were reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent. In addition, the minimum wage was increased by 11 per cent compared over the previous year and will be reviewed again in May. Ensuring equal pay for women and gender parity is a priority for the Government.

SAKINA YABOURI (Morocco) said her Government is working to build an equal society through policies aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Social protection structures with the individual at their heart are in place, and other initiatives seek to create a range of new, income-generating jobs. The Ministry of the Family and Social Development � through its 2017 2021 strategy � is implementing laws to combat violence against women and protect children from all forms of violence and exploitation. Morocco has also developed a range of housing, medical, skills-training and other support programmes for older people, including those who lack family support. In addition, she said, national laws and related public policies seek to integrate persons with disabilities into the national labour market.

GHANIM MUBARAK AL KUWARI (Qatar), associating himself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the principles of social development are reflected in his country's Vision 2030, as well as its overarching laws and policies. The Government employs both natural resources and revenue to help integrate all social groups and help all people � especially youth � reach their full potential. Subsidies are provided to entities and companies that create job opportunities for young people in the Arab world, he said, underscoring the need to combat extremism and noting that Qatar, Finland and Colombia will jointly convene a summit on those issues in Helsinki in March. We cannot address the question of social development issues without addressing the role of families, he added, recalling that the family unit has featured prominently in Qatar's outreach and support throughout the region. For example, the Family Institute of Doha has become a pioneering institution in that arena and contributes to the work of the Economic and Social Council as an accredited non-governmental organization.

TIJANA CUPIC and NIKOLA PETROVIC, youth delegates of Serbia, said that the task of Governments is to assist youth. Youth participation in Parliament must increase. The generational gap must be bridged. Young people are ready to do their part. Quality education and decent work are the issues young people are most worried about. Serbia's Ministry of Youth and Sports is empowering young people through promoting, funding and organizing different projects such as Fund for Young Talents. The promotion of entrepreneur skills of young people, especially young women, is noteworthy. The city of Novi Sad has been proclaimed the European Youth Capital for 2019. The city opens its door to the young people of Serbia, Europe and the world, to their enthusiasm and their potential.

WILLY FIONA MWASIAJI (Kenya) said that her country's Constitution articulates measures that protect the rights of vulnerable persons and promote their inclusion in the development process. The Government focuses on four key priority areas branded the Big 4 Agenda. These include food security, universal health care, manufacturing and affordable housing. About $4 billion has been allocated to implement them. Efforts are under way to bring down medical costs. The health expenditure will go from $610 million in 2018 to $730 million in 2021 while the coverage is expected to reach 100 per cent by 2022. The National Safety Net Programme targets poor households with orphans and vulnerable children, older persons and persons with disabilities. The cash transfer programme has over 1.3 million beneficiaries with an annual allocation of $290 million. The Women Enterprise Fund was established in 2007 with an aim of providing assessible and affordable credit facility.

PATRYCJA PUZ (Poland), associating herself with the European Union, said her Government has focused on tightening its value added tax (VAT) system and improving tax collection by limiting the number of fraud and abuse cases. It emphasizes automation and information technology solutions, implementing VAT in line with European Union laws, but offering preferential VAT rates on items such as books, food and medicine to support the poorest social groups. In 2019, Poland will launch a universal, voluntary long-term savings scheme known as Employee Capital Plans, aimed at providing security after age 60. Also outlining the country's Solidary Fund for the Disabled, its minimum wage and its Good Start Programme � which supports families with school aged children through annual benefits � she said a plan known as Programme Accessibility+ aims to improve accessibility of public spaces, products and services. Welfare is also provided in the form of cash support, in-kind assistance and services, including career support, counselling, meals, shelter and crisis intervention, she said.

KHALED MOHAMMED H. ALMANZLAWIY (Saudi Arabia), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that, while poverty takes different forms in different societies, it also shares some commonalities. Saudi Arabia has committed $9 billion annually to sustainable development initiatives, provides decent jobs to men and women and created a social safety net for families in need. Noting that Saudi Arabia's Constitution ensures full respect for all its citizens rights � including in times of illness and crisis � he said support centres have also been established to assist persons with disabilities. The fight against discrimination is a key factor in making progress, and older persons are no exception, he said, outlining some of the country's support for older people, such as the provision of monthly pensions. New initiatives have also been launched to incorporate gender into all public policies, he said, citing specific programmes to promote women's sexual and reproductive rights and their rights to access education and the labour market.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan), associating herself with the Group of 77, described social exclusion and inequality as multifaceted challenges that require multipronged solutions. Pakistan's people-centred policies use several measures to help people lift themselves out of poverty, including by promoting financial inclusion, agricultural growth, rural development and educational opportunities. A conditional cash transfer programme for education seeks to expand education to all and has already benefited some 2 million children, she said, adding that Pakistan's youth bulge provides the country with a unique opportunity to harness demographic dividends. Turning to policies aimed at ensuring gender equality and women's empowerment, she said such cash-transfer-based and female-empowered initiatives as the Benazir Income Support Programme help vulnerable segments of society overcome extreme poverty and find livelihoods.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) outlined numerous measures his Government has undertaken to address inequality, including steps for poverty eradication, access to education, health, employment and social security, and financial inclusion. His country has brought down the poverty level from 56.7 per cent in 1991 to 23.2 per cent today. The Government allocates more than 13 per cent of its budget to social safety net spending, which is 2.3 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Skills and knowledge are regarded as the key driving forces under the Government's Vision 2021 initiative. Bangladesh has achieved 100 per cent enrolment at the primary level, and literacy rates have increased from 45 per cent to 72.9 per cent over the last decade. To overcome challenges of income and other forms of inequalities, the Government is focusing on advancing women's participation.

RODRIGO ALBERTO CARAZO ZELEDA�N (Costa Rica) said his Government is committed to the ambitious development agenda and social development lays the ground for the attainment of the 2030 Agenda. However, his country is lagging in its taxation system, salary scale and social policy, which has resulted in a deterioration of income. Structural changes to fiscal, salary and wage policy is necessary, with an emphasis on inclusive social and economic growth for all individuals. Recently the Government launched a public investment plan to generate inclusive economic growth and at the same time to reduce poverty and inequality, consisting of 270 action goals. Rather than securing additional resources, funding already available must be invested effectively. Costa Rica spends a significant portion of its GDP on education, as such funding is among the best ways to reduce inequality. We cannot talk about addressing inequality without gender parity and equal pay for women. Conditional cash transfer programmes help youth to stay in formal education. Educational reintegration programme targets teenage parents.

SOUALEM LAZHAR (Algeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said equality of opportunity for the protection of human rights is a principle at the heart of his country's national policies. Following a deadly war of liberation, Algeria now works to ensure that all citizens enjoy the rights that were denied by their colonizers for more than a century. Outlining initiatives in such sectors as education, health and culture, he said that despite financial constraints, the Government also provides assistance to vulnerable groups. Almost a quarter of the State budget over the past decade has been devoted to social programmes, including by providing loans and microcredit schemes that have directly created millions of jobs. While education � including university � is free across the country, about 8 million school-aged children benefit from grants that subsidize uniforms, books and other essentials. Meanwhile, students in higher education receive support for housing, health care and other services.

DARJA BAVDAZ KURET (Slovenia) said the national social development strategy is guided by a set of instruments to ensure that individuals and groups can satisfy their personal and social interests. The prevention of poverty and social exclusion requires an integrated approach, as the empowerment of women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities is essential to ending poverty. Underscoring the need for a comprehensive human rights framework for older persons, she said Slovenia and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) jointly held a high-level conference on policies for equal ageing. Slovenia supports young people's inclusion through Government scholarships and welfare benefits, as well as support for housing. More broadly, the Government passed the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability under the Employment Relationship Act.

MOUSSA TRAORE (Guinea), associating himself with the African Group and the Group of 77, said his country's Constitution pays special attention to the most vulnerable segments of society. A national social and economic development plan (2016-2020) is closely aligned with the 2030 Agenda and has helped to make progress towards meeting the targets enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals. A national law ensures the rights of persons with disability, emphasizing inclusion and empowerment. Noting that Guinea's population is very young, he outlined programmes providing social outreach to poor households, socioeconomic reintegration services for returning migrants, volunteer programmes for young people and laws criminalizing violence.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India), associating himself with the Group of 77, said social protection has emerged as the key instrument to address inequality. States can focus more on developing efficient tax collection systems, formalizing the informal economy and targeting public services and financial interventions to those who need them. Measures to address wage discrimination, protect worker's rights, extend social protection and create decent employment and entrepreneurship opportunities � especially for women and young people � are also important for building more resilient societies. One sixth of the world's population lives in India and the country's progress in lifting people out of poverty and addressing inequality has been crucial. Outlining various specific measures, such as assisting some 340 million people to open bank accounts who did not previously have them, he said the country has recently taken steps towards ensuring universal health coverage and harnessing the potential of its large youth population.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOGLU (Turkey) said men, women, persons with disabilities, older persons and young people alike must be integrated into global development efforts, advocating support for female labour participation and equal pay for equal work. Particular attention must be given to Africa, where countries must strengthen their strategies to promote structural transformation, inclusive and sustained growth, employment creation and social protection. Turkey will continue to support Africa's development priorities in the 2030 Agenda and the Agenda 2063 through awareness raising and efforts to help resolve least developed countries' problems. It is our collective and shared responsibility, he said, noting that in Turkey, social assistance and fiscal policies drive poverty reduction efforts. Labour market policies, including flexible work arrangements, positively affect youth and female employment. Those living in temporary protection in Turkey receive food, health care and education.

MARIA ANGELA ZAPPIA (Italy), joined by a youth delegate, said that her country recognizes the multifaceted added value of the increased participation of young people in all aspects of society, as it deems them as agents of change, the flywheel of development and natural peacebuilders. Young people are rightly identified in the Secretary-General's sustaining peace agenda as one of the key components in peacebuilding processes. A quality formal and informal education considerably facilitates youth development and reduces the number of so-called NEETs, or those not in education, employment or training. Italy has been historically at the forefront of efforts to guarantee social integration and work inclusion and full enjoyment of human rights of persons with disabilities, placing a high premium on mental and intellectual disabilities. The Government adopted a law in 2018, delegating the coordination of all policies on disability to a single ministry.

AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka) said that his country in 2015 successfully achieved the Millennium Development Goals and it remains committed to sustainable development by aligning its national policies and strategies with the 2030 Agenda. Outlining numerous measures undertaken by the Government to reduce inequality, including constitutional guarantees, a step to address income disparities, and the acceleration of rural economic and social development, he said youth skills development is a critical component in the country's policy framework. At the United Nations, Sri Lanka is among the main sponsors of World Youth Skills Day. The Government also focuses on three areas of women's empowerment, namely their economic enhancement and financial identity, the elimination of violence against them, and their engagement in public and political life.

KATALIN ANNAMARIA BOGYAY (Hungary), cited the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits, emphasizing that these words still serve as a powerful compass to address inequalities and challenges to social inclusion. Hungary supports vulnerable groups, including women, children and youth, large families and the Roma community. The Government has launched a comprehensive action plan to support families. Other measures include maternity support, infant care allowance and childcare benefits. The Youth Guarantee Programme provides education, training and employment opportunities to 133,000 beneficiaries. The Roma population is often affected by poverty and exclusion. The National Social Inclusion Strategy defines a complex set of interventions. The employment rate among the Roma community increased from 25.9 per cent in 2013 to 45 per cent in 2017.

JOSA� LUA�S ROCHA (Cabo Verde), associating with the Group of 77 and China, and the African Group, said his country has seen progress on the socioeconomic front with its graduation from least developed country status, and politically in the fields of democracy, human rights and good governance. Cabo Verde still must overcome extreme poverty, income and regional inequalities and high unemployment. Policies target the legal framework for more inclusive education, while the Youth Employment and Social Cohesion Programme and the Social Care Integrated System are also under way. Further, Cabo Verde has adopted social protection floors for basic health care and basic income for children and the elderly, in line with International Labour Organization (ILO) recommendations. Social pensions have doubled in recent years and the Government seeks to increase the number of beneficiaries.

JEAN-CLAUDE DO REGO (Benin), associating himself with the African Group, the Group of 77 and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), underlined the importance of ensuring that every nation can shape its own future. Among other principles, Benin bases its policies on that of social protection for all � especially the most vulnerable � as well as the balanced distribution of development dividends. Outlining some of its initiatives, he spotlighted the national health insurance programme, which covers those living in extreme poverty at 100 per cent. The Government also provides conditional cash transfers to at-risk households deemed capable of doing community work and unconditional cash transfers for persons with disabilities. Noting that climate change increases people's vulnerability, he said Benin adopted a climate change mitigation law in 2018, aimed at protecting its population from climate-related threats in the long term. In addition, it places the fight against corruption and impunity at the heart of all its efforts.

RUBA�N ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBASN (El Salvador), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, outlined his country's focus on the multidimensional nature of poverty. Programmes focus on such areas as housing, education, social security and food security, while policies also aim to reduce gender inequality. Recalling that the Government established a national substantive equality system for that purpose, he said fiscal and pension reforms are also critical tools to mitigating the negative impacts of inequality. He went on to outline such initiatives as the Sustainable Family Strategy, a basic solidarity pension scheme for persons with disabilities and country-wide efforts to end illiteracy. Noting a reduction in the relevance of the Commission's discussions, he called for urgent reinvigoration. The work of the Commission has been overtaken elsewhere in the United Nations, including in the General Assembly's Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) and the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, among other bodies. For that reason, he said, El Salvador will contribute to discussions on the Commission's working methods and finding a more appropriate role.

ALI NASEER MOHAMED(Maldives) welcomed this year's theme and said poverty eradication should be a priority within countries and globally. His country is addressing inequality through a rights-based approach and inclusive policies. The Government is committed to ensuring social justice. Outlining numerous measures the Government has taken, he pointed to free education, including undergraduate tuition, medical care, affordable housing and water for all. Non-communicable diseases are the cause of 80 per cent of deaths in his country and the ageing population is a serious issue of concern as its populace spreads across 180 islands. Inclusive growth is the bedrock of development. Non-discrimination in employment is enshrined in the law. Youth are encouraged to reach their full potential. Investments are made to that end.

GEORGI PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), joined by two youth delegates, said youth are recognized as agents of change in the 2030 Agenda. But we can do more, and we can do better, he said. A United Nations report highlights the need to redouble efforts on quality education. In 2018, national consultations focused on the importance of quality education and decent work. Quality education should focus on not only knowledge, but also skills that will make young people employable. It is vital to ensure that young people, including persons with disabilities, acquire up-to-date skills in a rapidly changing world so that they can find meaningful employment and play an active role as citizens of democratic society. His delegation is organizing an event to showcase good practices of inclusive education for young people with disabilities. Member States should take the requisite steps to ensure their employability.

FRANCISCO ALBERTO GONZALEZ (Colombia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said discussions on the Commission's 2019 theme should contribute to the work of the Economic and Social Council's high-level political forum in July. Colombia's national development plan prioritizes the needs of youth, older persons and people with disability, he said, describing young people as decisive players in the country's economy and future. Describing the establishment of community centres where young people can develop their creativity, knowledge and innovation, he added that the national action plan on disability integration seeks to remove obstacles to access, extend reintegration services and improve data collection on disability. Noting that the Commission plays an important role in identifying and monitoring the challenges facing vulnerable groups, he urged it to continue its mission of helping to ensure that no one is left behind.

FIRHAS HASSAN JABBAR (Iraq), associating himself with the Group of 77, outlined his country's social protection programmes, including insurance networks, labour policies and special attention to the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities. However, following large-scale terrorist activities, Iraq is suffering from environmental degradation resulting from resource exploitation and the use of explosives. In addition, more than 3 million refugees have recently returned home, and many women, children and persons with disabilities are still suffering the impacts having been harmed or exploited by terrorists. In response, Iraq is providing both material assistance and support and is implementing laws aimed at empowering women and girls.

ANDRES MOLINA (Guatemala) said his country is a middle-income nation grappling with social exclusion and other challenges. Many citizens are trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequality. Income and gender gaps are expanding. It is important to implement the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development, including recommendations regarding fiscal and social protection policy to enhance social inclusion. Gaps exist between political will and implementation on the ground. It is time to achieve tangible measures. Underscoring the need to address issues related to older persons, he said they often have no income or gainful employment. They often do not receive pensions. Capacity-building at the national and international levels is necessary to ensure their inclusion. Another vulnerable group is youth. He called for efforts to make them visible players in sustainable development and increase investment in high-quality education.

AMANI AL-TABTABAIE (Kuwait) outlined various social development policy reforms in her country, including efforts to enhance assistance to senior citizens, children, persons with disability and others. With regards to gender, she stressed that no discrimination exists in Kuwait and that it ranks among the top five countries for gender equality in the region. Kuwait has enacted policies aimed at promoting the welfare of families, including through subsidies, training and know-how exchange. Non-governmental organizations and civil society play an active role in all those efforts, she said, adding that Kuwait is among the world's best-prepared countries with respect to natural disasters. We are ensuring that healthy cities are being created in harmony with nature, she said.

MIRWAIS BAHEEJ (Afghanistan) said the threats of cross-border terrorism and violent extremism continue to undermine his country's efforts to pursue sustainable development and economic growth. Nevertheless, Afghanistan's National Peace and Development Framework provides a blueprint for the country's development, identifying poverty reduction and social inclusion as a main pathway forward. Women's empowerment in social, economic and political spheres is a top national priority and the Government is working to address inequalities through fiscal, wage and social protection policies. In addition, work is under way to build strong, accountable institutions, create an environment conducive to private sector growth, improve human development outcomes and reduce vulnerability among internally displace persons and returnees. A programme known as EZ-KAR aims to improve economic opportunities for refugees and internally displaced persons in host communities by providing the infrastructure for marketplaces, facilitating small business development and creating employment opportunities. In addition, an earned income tax credit scheme provides support to the working poor, while education and training programmes focus on building market-oriented skills.

ESHAGH AL-HABIB (Iran) said that social protection cannot live without social inclusion and vice versa. They are mutually reinforcing, and one paves the way for the realization of the other. While social protection seems to be the body, social inclusion seems to be the soul and that is why wherever social protection exists without social inclusion, a vivid discrimination persists. Iran's Gini index improved from 0.41 in 2010 to 0.39 in 2015, and further to 0.37. This proved a successful national plan in reducing inequality, but unilateral coercive measures, including those by the United States, torpedo the reduction in inequalities when they target Iran's health system, banking and financial system and social protection system.

GHISLAINE WILLIAMS (Saint Kitts and Nevis) said the year 2019 represents the largest injection of financial resources for social development in the last few years. The Government continues to reform its public policies, including social protection programmes that cater to indigent families, children, young people, older persons and persons with disabilities. Its poverty alleviation programme, launched two months ago, aims to enhance the welfare and quality of life of the most vulnerable of its population, with low-income families receiving cash. Her country continues to prioritize education. Through its education sector plan, launched in 2017, the Government aims to grant equitable access to high-quality, inclusive education particularly to youth, life-long students and students with learning disabilities. The Government has injected more than $300 million in a skills training empowerment programme.

ANNA NORLANDER (Sweden) said that fiscal, wage and social protection policies are the foundation of her country's universal welfare system. As such, they remain an important starting point for addressing inequality and social exclusion. Sweden's labour market model � characterized by the autonomy of social partners and the strong position of collective agreements � has produced 20 years of real wage increases, as well as the highest employment rate in the European Union, she said, pointing to the high level of employment. She underscored the importance of Governments, trade unions and employer organizations working together to combat labour market inequalities and emphasized that few if any countries have succeeded in reducing poverty and improving living conditions without comprehensive social protection systems. She went on to stress the right of all young people to decent living conditions and the power to shape their lives, as well as measures to make the labour market more inclusive for people with disabilities.

ANA SILVIA RODRA�GUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said poverty eradication, full employment and social inclusion can only be achieved by changing the current international order, which is unjust and unsustainable. Cuba agrees with the Secretary-General on the ability of fiscal policy to address barriers to social inclusion. Greater investment in social protection, including access to quality education and health care, will reduce poverty, she said, stressing that States bear the responsibility for fiscal, tax and wage policies. She added that while Cuba's social development is directly impacted by the blockade imposed by the United States, it continues to make remarkable progress in social matters, fulfilling several targets within the Sustainable Development Goals.

MARCELO BAMBRANA (Bolivia), associating himself with the Group of 77, expressed regret that existing gaps and obstacles to achieving equality and social inclusion continue. Those include increasing numbers of armed conflicts, lack of action on climate change commitments and slowing economic growth, among other challenges. Urging countries to take stock of obstacles and address them, he outlined progress achieved in Bolivia, which has been based on productive communities and harmony with nature, as well as social, gender and ethnic inclusivity. Noting that the country has implemented a model income and wealth distribution policy, he said the middle class has expanded while poverty rates have dropped. A job creation plan targeted at young people created 58,000 new jobs in its first year. Meanwhile, the nationalization of natural resources from private hands has created more jobs and a fairer wealth distribution. Citing threats to the multilateral global system, he said dialogue and respect for differences continue to be critical.

CHERITH NORMAN (United States) recalled that when it began, the Commission was a landmark body � the first of its kind � and appointed the United Nations first special rapporteur on disability issues. However, it has not evolved as it should have over the years. Noting that the issue of disability rights now permeates all the United Nations work, including that of the Security Council, she said the Commission regrettably remains stuck in a charity or medical model as it considers the topic. Moreover, she said, that outdated discussion is one symptom of a broader challenge, and the Commission requires significant reform. That should include shortened annual sessions and more thoughtful discussions focused on timely themes, she said, warning that as it stands it appears the Commission is meeting just to meet. In addition, she reiterated the suggestion that the body negotiate a single outcome document on its annual theme, instead of numerous separate resolutions, as is now being done in the Commission on the Status of Women. Such changes will contribute to further streamlining the work of all the United Nations main organs, she said.

MOHAMMAD K. KOBA (Indonesia), associating himself with the Group of 77, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said his country has enshrined an inclusive and comprehensive social protection programme and a national social security system in its laws and presidential decrees. Those include universal health coverage and cash assistance, both aimed at reducing inequality and rendering the population more resilient to social and economic shocks. Low-income families are given Family Hope Cards, which provide free health insurance, 12 years of free basic education and assistance for older persons and those with disabilities. Spending is also allocated to empowering the economy of the people by increasing employment opportunities, reducing the prices of basic goods, pushing down national inflation and creating entrepreneurial incentives, he said. Meanwhile, a minimum wage system is in place to promote more dynamic bargaining power for workers.

NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE (Nepal), associating himself with the Group of 77, welcomed the theme of the session as rightly capturing the issues that need attention. There is no more opportune time than now to discuss inequality, which is not only alarming but posing impediments to the attainment of sustainable development. Women and girls face the greatest inequality. The Government is determined to reduce all forms of inequality to create a happy prosperous Nepal. The Government has launched a social security scheme, triggered by the nation's rights-based Constitution, which enshrines social security as people's fundamental right. It is focusing on tax reform, youth entrepreneurship and minimum wage. Engagement of youth serves as a catalyst for innovation. He stressed the important role that international development partners can play in reducing inequality.

COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica) said findings of the Secretary-General's report on the theme of fiscal, wage and social protection policies reinforce a need for continued action at national, regional and multilateral levels. Summarizing Jamaica's achievements, he cited improvements to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the creation of the National Social Protection Committee and the drafting of a poverty-reduction programme. Alongside implementing a fiscal consolidation programme, Jamaica is allocating increased resources to a social protection strategy, holding discussions on developing a national policy for senior citizens and reviewing policies to protect vulnerable populations in the event of disasters. Ongoing programmes also target youth and persons with disabilities, he said, expressing optimism that coordinated national, regional and global action can address country-level and international challenges.

PARK CHULL-JOO (Republic of Korea) said his Government devises a new plan to promote the rights of person with disabilities every five years. Under the current strategy, initiatives seek to help persons with disabilities live independently, and plans are under way to phase out the disability grading system, increase housing support and expand the target population for personal assistant services. As youth empowerment is another priority, the Government is also working to support at-risk young people and strengthen a community-based social safety net to help with prevention. Regarding older persons � a population which is expected to rise from 14 per cent in 2017 to 20 per cent in 2025, rendering the Republic of Korea a super-aged society � he said addressing ageing and low fertility rates while increasing post-retirement income security are, therefore, top national priorities. Among other things, he also spotlighted initiatives aimed at expanding respect for the diversity of families.

DINH NHO HUNG (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said economic growth must go hand in hand with social progress and equality. Viet Nam's policies aim to create equal opportunities for all people - especially members of vulnerable groups - to access development resources and enjoy basic services and social welfare. The country was one of the first in the world to achieve a universal social protection floor, and in 2018 almost 90 per cent of its population participated in health insurance programmes. Poverty and malnutrition have dropped. Meanwhile, a National Employment Fund provides support to more than 84,000 people. While much progress has been made, Viet Nam still faces such interconnected and emerging challenges as climate change. To address that threat, developing countries should use resources allocated for social welfare, strengthen and expand social protection systems, and design fair and efficient wage and fiscal policies to better protect the poor and vulnerable group. International cooperation must be strengthened also.

HELENA DEL CARMEN YA�NEZ LOZA (Ecuador), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, noted that 24 years have passed since the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, and the international community celebrates efforts to reduce inequality and efforts to make distribution of wealth and income more equitable. Fiscal policy can contribute to reducing inequality and foster inclusive growth. Her country has developed a road map to reduce inequality and support vulnerable groups throughout their life cycle, called Whole Life. Measures include programmes to support the health, nutrition and education of children in their early years, as well as the Housing for All initiative, which targets, among others, indigent and low-income families. As of December 2017, 61 per cent of the population has a bachelor's degree. She called for the establishment of an international instrument to protect the rights of older persons.

MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) said that her Government declared 2019 to be a year of regional development and digitization. The Government is implementing new social policies to ensure fiscal and logistical access to social services. Regarding persons with disabilities, laws to assist them were put in place in 2008. The State must ensure the creation of necessary conditions for them to enjoy their rights, including to education, health services and employment. The Government also put in place a youth support plan for 2017-2020. The Government continues to assist those who are still disadvantaged. Legislation has been passed to protect family life as family is the primary unit for social development. The country is in the first phase of a 10-year period to promote family life.

HMWAY HMWAY KHYNE (Myanmar), associating herself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, described her country's national sustainable development plan which provides a comprehensive social, economic and environmental policy reform agenda. Myanmar is striving to invest more in education, health care, employment, gender parity, infrastructure, financial services and information and communications technology, among other social determinants. It has enacted a minimum wage law, along with a related national committee tasked with setting wages for low-wage workers. Underlining the potential of Myanmar's young people, she said youth representatives helped to draft the country's national youth policy. Financial services, skills training and ICT are being provided to women to promote their economic empowerment, and the rights of persons with disabilities has been enshrined in two laws enacted in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Because of its progress, Myanmar in 2018 fulfilled the eligibility criteria for graduation from least developed country status. We need more collective and concerted efforts to pursue our development path towards building a sustainable and resilient future, she said.

MOHAMED FATHI AHMED EDREES (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said the lack of social inclusion for the most marginalized groups impedes development in many countries. Egypt is in a race against time to achieve economic development by launching major national projects, he said, underlining the importance of including all segments of society in their planning. Recalling that the country has hosted several youth leadership forums at the national and regional level, as well as related training programmes, he said 2017 was declared the Year of Women in Egypt and 2018 saw record levels of women in public leadership roles. Microprojects, complete with State financing, are also helping to drive up economic inclusion. In addition, he said, the Government provides support to poor families, expanded social protection coverage and connects persons with disabilities who were previously unable to work with jobs compatible with their levels of ability.

FREDERICO SALOMA�O DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) said that, while the Commission should focus on its priority theme, it should not overlook the potential positive impact of other topics. Brazil's new Government is reviewing and strengthening current social programmes while ensuring fiscal discipline, he said, stressing that the most vulnerable will be the main beneficiaries of State support. More Government is not necessarily the best public response to address inequality, he stressed. Citing development progress around the world, he said many strides have been made. Recalling that Brazil recently experienced a tragic mine collapse that killed 160 people, he said both natural and human-made disasters can have profound and lasting socioeconomic consequences and pledged to identify and hold to account all those responsible for the incident.

JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, welcomed this session's topic to address inequality through fiscal and wage policy. Developing countries have made progress but much remains to be done for vulnerable groups. The international community must work towards the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Regarding the right to development, he said that unilateral measures impede efforts for some countries to grow and to eradicate poverty. Malnutrition and illiteracy in Nicaragua has almost been eradicated. The country posted the second highest economic growth rate in Central America over the last five years. It is the safest country in that region and has the lowest crime rate. In 2016, the poverty rate fell to 24.9 per cent and the extreme poverty rate to 6.9 per cent.

KANISSON COULIBALY (Mali), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group and ECOWAS, said his country is working tirelessly to leave no one behind based on a system of social justice. His country made a political choice to invest in social development and reduce inequality so that the fruits of economic growth can be shared by all its citizens. In 2009, the Government launched a compulsory health regime, under which health insurance covers 70 to 80 per cent of medical costs. About 12 per cent of the total population is covered by this scheme. In 2018, the Government established a universal health coverage system. In October every year, Mali celebrates solidarity with older persons and persons with disability, with the goal of leaving no one behind. His delegation looks forward to the high-level meeting on universal health coverage during the next General Assembly session.

TOMASZ GRYSA, observer for the Holy See, said greater income equality diminishes intergenerational mobility and the impact of economic growth on poverty eradication. It also undermines social cohesion and trust in sociopolitical systems, leading to a disconnect between those who govern and the citizens, as well as feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. Noting that such sentiments are especially prominent among young people, he emphasized the importance of inclusive, quality education as an instrument to bridge inequality and enable more dynamic socioeconomic mobility. Calling for stronger investments in and protections for the family unit, he spotlighted family-friendly fiscal policies and social protection schemes that help families nurture future generations.

HABIB MIKAYILLI (Azerbaijan) said that global inequality remains very high, with income inequality growing in almost all regions. Economic growth alone cannot guarantee equality, he said, stating that its benefits must be shared among all segments of the population. Improving access to quality education should be a priority for all countries in their efforts to overcome inequality. Reviewing the situation in Azerbaijan, where poverty and jobless rates have fallen to 5 per cent and a presidential decree to raise the minimum wage was recently signed, he said the Government is making enormous efforts to diversify the economy through, among other things, the development of industrial and agro-parks.

LAHYA SHIKONGO (Namibia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, outlined gains made in reducing poverty and ensuring the sustainable social development of its population � all stemming from constitutionally mandated rights and privileges. Those include free primary and secondary education, acceptable standards of health and the allocation of the requisite budget for related services. Namibia has satisfied the conditions for ILO's minimum social protection floors, and the national social safety net remains a core component of the Government's poverty eradication strategy. Large portions of the public budget are allocated to the health sector, particularly in women's health and HIV/AIDS - which affects more women and girls in Namibia than men and boys � and maternal health care. Mobile clinics deployed to remote areas help pregnant women who once had to travel long distances to access hospitals or birth clinics, she added.

DEBORAH O'HARA-RUSCKOWSKI, observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta, said her organization has been committed to caring for the poor, sick and people with disabilities for over 900 years. Today, it operates more than 2,000 projects in 120 countries and upholds the dignity of those in need through medical, social and humanitarian initiatives. Noting that about 15 per cent of the world population has a disability, she said the Sovereign Order of Malta provides them with assistance in their daily lives, access to health care and education, as well as other basic services. People with disabilities face numerous barriers and, in many countries, few emergency relief sites and facilities are accessible to them. The international community must not tire in its efforts to promote the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, she stressed.

SHARIFA AL-EMADI, Doha International Family Institute, also speaking on behalf of several other non-governmental organizations, underlined the importance or work-family balance and low-cost childcare. Investments in parents, according to their needs, is a crucial element of policymaking, she said. Also critical is a recognition of the role of men in child-rearing. Meanwhile, non-governmental groups must play a major part in devising related strategies, plans and policies.

Source: United Nations

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