In December 2011, the European Commission launched a public consultation under the title: Consultation for the preparation of a Commission Communication on Social Protection in European Union Development Cooperation. The consultation period is just about to expire and QCEA made a submission to the consultation.
The consultation is based on an ‘Issues Paper’, some 19 pages of considerations which might go to developing such a Communication and some 21 Questions which contributors are asked to address.
It is encouraging to see that the Issues Paper says:
‘A key premise of this approach is that social protection supports inclusive growth by enabling people to participate in the economy (p.1).’ This rightly reflects the importance of social protection (that is: welfare benefits, pensions, access to health and social services for those who need them) for inclusive and just societies: indeed, it is one of the key requirements for social and economic justice.
It might be a little ironic that this discussion is ongoing at a time when the very social protection programmes which have characterized the European Social Model since the end of the second World War are coming under increasing pressure in the face of the global financial crisis.
The paper goes on, in the same paragraph to say: ‘that (social protection) enables people to consume, to acquire assets and to make investments’; in other words, social protection contributes to the economic functioning of society. We would not agree that consumption, the acquisition of assets and making investments is the be-all and end-all of a well functioning economy – not at all – but what is meant by this is essentially: it enables participation in the economy by people who would otherwise be excluded from this. It is this ability to participate that goes some way towards economic justice.
It is also important that the European Commission is engaging in this discussion at this point because as social protection comes under pressure in developed countries, there is evidence, again referred to in the Issues Paper (p. 7) that development, growth and increasing wealth in what are referred to as ‘middle income countries’ go hand in hand with ‘persistently high levels of inequality’ and that ‘there are up to a billion poor people, or a ‘new bottom billion’, living not in the world’s poorest countries but in MICs (Middle Income Countries)’ (quoting here from Glassman and Sumner: Global Health and the New Bottom Billion).
Why did QCEA feel it right to make a contribution to this consultation? We were greatly helped by a Quaker from theNetherlands who alerted us to the consultation and assisted in producing an initial draft of the response. We felt that this was an important topic for us to contribute to because:
- It builds on the work we did in recent years on the Mainstreaming of Conflict Prevention in Development Assistance and in particular the report we published in 2009 under the same title and our concerns raised in that report about the potential for budget support (a form of support relevant to social protection programmes) to exacerbate conflict
- It is an issue which requires the EU to address the question of the extent to which its other policies (trade, agriculture, fisheries, energy, etc) potentially or actually undermine the viability of economies in third countries and therefore the contribution to poverty that EU policies make
- It provides us with the opportunity to raise in the context of this consultation the important work done by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their groundbreaking research published under the title of The Spirit Level. This shows now inequality in societies also leads to a whole range of other negative social outcomes and how the more equal a society is the better it works for all.
And whilst the consultation questions were not all framed in a way that immediately allowed us to focus on these three very important issues, we have used our response to raise them where this was possible within the constraints of the questionnaire.
QCEA believes that social protection is an important aspect of economic justice; this is true in the EU and elsewhere. And even if social protection here is under increasing pressure, it is right and important that the EU considers its possible contribution to social protection in developing countries because economic justice is indivisible. If there is economic injustice anywhere, there is economic injustice everywhere and we are all implicated.