UNDP’s work on Social Protection

Statement by Haoliang Xu at the Evaluation Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS Annual Session 2023, on UNDP’s work on Social Protection

June 7, 2023

Good afternoon distinguished Members of the Executive Board and colleagues,

On behalf of UNDP, I would like to thank the Independent Evaluation Office for its first thematic evaluation of UNDP’s work on social protection and welcome its seven recommendations aimed at strengthening our policy and tailored programmatic offers to specific country contexts. 

Value of the current evaluation

This evaluation could not be timelier. The challenges of today require renewed efforts and alternative innovative responses combined with more traditional ones.

  • For instance – more than half of the world’s population continue to have no access to comprehensive social protection to cope with life risks and shocks; and 
  • Critical regional disparities remain, where the African region has the lowest average coverage of adequate comprehensive social protection with only 17% of their population – particularly across low-income countries.

Across countries, there is solid evidence on the value of social protection in supporting poverty reduction and in promoting economic growth by creating market demand, protecting jobs and human capital, and boosting productivity.

What we have witnessed and learned during the COVID-19 pandemic

As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, social protection responses were among the top choice for emergency response to protect people to cope with the socio-economic impacts. Over 190 countries rolled out over 3,000 measures, and social assistance such as cash transfers were the most popular. 

While these measures were essential, many were temporary or too small stipends to solve the problem of vulnerable population groups and are not a replacement of a national comprehensive integrated social protection system.

Take the 1.6 billion informal workers globally – for instance – most of whom are women in developing countries working with limited or no labour law protection, or social benefits such as pension, health insurance or paid sick leave, with lower wages and in unsafe conditions, who became more vulnerable. 

There are many reasons for fragmented inadequate social protection systems. Weak governance systems, including the administrative, institutional, and legal architecture that underpins and delivers the programmes, can perpetuate gaps in coverage, fragment and undermine social protection systems.

Beyond limited coverage, weak capacities and institutions, and inadequate policy frameworks – financing, mainly limited domestic fiscal space, continues to be the largest impediment for scaling up comprehensive social protection systems.

UNDP’s current work on social protection

Within UNDP, more than 73% of the resources for its work on social protection come from local cost-sharing. This is largely from Latin America and Caribbean countries. 

Nevertheless, if we take the resources allocated through regular resources, funding windows and vertical funds – on average, 70% is allocated to LDCs and low-income countries.

In general, 65% of UNDP’s expenditures were directed to national social protection systems, programmes, and delivery mechanisms, and 20% to broader capacity strengthening, vulnerability metrics, and civil registries.

Our internal review and the current evaluation show that UNDP is ready to scale up its support to countries, and for that sources of funding will be required in coming years. 

UNDP’s future of work on social protection

UNDP’s programmatic target will include exploring solutions for the “missing middle” – those who do not qualify as extremely poor to receive social assistance benefits but whose source of employment offers little or no protection.

With more than half the people in the world receiving only partial or no social protection, their capacity to withstand shocks is limited.

Across our management response, you will see that UNDP priority investments are to support countries develop a new generation of social protection systems that are adequate for low-income informal workers and women; build digital capacities and solutions that will expand coverage; including innovative financing mechanisms, and support schemes for low-income informal workers by private investors, cooperatives or community-based organizations - not as a replacement, but to complement what national and local governments must do.

UNDP will scale up its assistance to countries to ensure their social protection systems are shock-responsive and adaptive to the challenges of the twenty-first century. These efforts will build on our portfolios on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

Lastly, your financial and technical support to help UNDP scale up its social protection solutions in the most vulnerable societies and implementing the 7 recommendations of this evaluation are appreciated.

Thank you for your attention !