Geneva — “Over two years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the World Health Organisation said that governments had to ‘fix the roof before the rain came’. And yet countries were still caught off-guard in 2020.

The world can and must do better next time. Individual countries, particularly low-income ones, cannot prepare on their own. A new mechanism at the international level would provide both the right incentives and the financial sustainability necessary to establish robust social protection systems,” said the UN poverty expert.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the majority of the world’s population — 55 percent, or 4 billion people — lacks any form of social protection. Another 16 percent, or 1.2 billion people, enjoy only partial protection. Only 35 percent of children, approximately one in three, benefit from child allowances that would ensure they receive childcare, nutrition and education.

“The overall picture is clear: in the past, too little was invested in healthcare, unemployment, old-age pensions, or children and disability allowances,” said De Schutter. “And the poor are now paying the high cost of this mistake.”

Investments in such public programs, part of what universal social protection systems are, would have largely prevented the additional 88 to 115 million people who were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 and the additional 23 to 35 million that are expected for 2021.

“Establishing a Global Fund for Social Protection is doable, and it is affordable, but it requires political will,” De Schutter said. “The ILO estimates that less than $78 billion would be needed for low-income countries to establish social protection floors, including healthcare, covering their population of 711 million. While that might sound like a high figure, it is actually less than half of what developed countries are already providing in development aid. The question is therefore not about affordability, but about setting the right political priorities.”