World Bank Launches New Social Protection and Labor Strategy

The World Bank has developed a new strategy for 2012-2022 in the area of Social Protection and Labor (SPL). The strategy is built on a platform that is designed to overcome certain gaps that were identified in its prior experience of engagement with SPL. These gaps relate to four critical challenges: (i) achieving integration across programs and functions; (ii) providing access to SPL instruments; (iii) promoting access to job opportunities, and (iv) expanding global knowledge of effective SPL concepts. The intent of the new strategy is to move SPL from a policy of isolated interventions to a coherent and connected portfolio of programs. The World Bank’s new strategy embraces a systemic approach with the objective of helping countries address fragmentation and duplication across programs. Its intended outcome is to create financing, governance and practical solutions appropriate for a country’s own particular social and economic context.

The World Bank believes that the new SPL strategy will enhance progress with respect to opportunity, equity and resilience. The intention is to promote opportunity to improve people’s productivity and incomes through building and preserving human capital and by providing access to better jobs and income and alleviate poverty where it is prevalent. The strategy is expected to improve equity at both the national and global levels by reducing poverty, with strong support for people in low income countries and those in the informal sector of the economy. The overall objective is to build up resilience by ensuring that individuals and families are well-protected against the prevailing conditions and sudden shocks that otherwise might overwhelm them.

The World Bank’s new SPL strategy takes into account the importance of having social safety nets that are effective in reducing poverty and inequality. Two specific objectives will be promoting access to health and education among poor children, and empowering women. The strategy supports sustainable social insurance programs that help cushion the impact of crises on households. Furthermore, the strategy promotes effective policies for productive employment that help people gain access to labor markets and develop the appropriate skills that will be beneficial during both normal times and recovery from economic crises. The SPL strategy is structured on evidence-based policy-making that defines the World Bank’s commitments to attain more effective and inclusive social and economic growth and development. To this end, the new strategy will focus on generating evidence to inform effective policies, promote knowledge-sharing, provide open access to information, and generate global leadership in research, analysis and data management.

The next decade is expected to present significant challenges arising from fast-moving social and economic changes. Social protection and labor strategies will need to be designed to respond accordingly and help countries cope with the socioeconomic conditions that may arise. The world is increasingly becoming interconnected with economic risks and shocks flowing across national borders. Poverty, inequality and exclusion persist in many countries. Limited access to education, health and nutrition typically produces conditions that make economic mobility unattainable for many poor people. The future outlook for productive job opportunities appears uncertain for large numbers of the world’s working-age population who face the prospect of unemployment or underemployment. Nevertheless, the decade ahead offers opportunities that represent extraordinary potential for advancing social and economic development. There is clear evidence that many persons in the developing world have emerged from conditions of poverty; steady future economic growth will continue this trend. Improvements in education and health augur well for future generations in developing and emerging countries.

The UN Social Protection Floor initiative currently led by the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization has been endorsed by the United Nations, the G20, and by numerous governments and non-governmental organizations. It promotes the importance of effective social protection and labor programs and policies. In addition, multilateral banks, United Nations agencies, the European Commission, and bilateral partners are increasingly helping countries to improve their social protection and labor policies. Notable progress has been achieved recently with programs in Argentina, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India and Mexico.

Social protection and labor policies and programs can provide a broad-based foundation for achieving inclusive growth and social stability. There is growing evidence that SPL contributes to economic and social growth and development by building and protecting human capital, providing the security to invest in higher-risk and higher-return activities, promoting labor market flexibility, stabilizing aggregate demand (notably during recessions), enhancing productive assets and infrastructure, reducing inequality in society, and making growth-enhancing reforms more politically feasible. Future World Bank systemic SPL approaches will have the following features: (i) synchronized across programs; (ii) monitored, evaluated, and adapted; (iii) affordable and cost-effective; (iv) responsive to crises and shocks; and (v) transparent and accountable. The World Bank expects that its new SPL strategy will prove effective in helping nations meet the challenges ahead.