Statement of Matilda Dimovska, UNDP Resident Representative at a High-level conference organized by ILO on "Advancing decent work for social justice in Uzbekistan”

February 21, 2023
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Hurmatli tadbir ishtirokchilari, Dear distinguished guests and participants!

I congratulate the Government and the ILO for organizing this event on such a relevant and timely topic. As advancement of decent work and social justice is precondition for attainment of the 2030 Agenda and sustainable development in Uzbekistan. 

This session - dedicated to promotion of inclusive and gender-responsive policies to support job creation and extend social protection - is at core of such ambition. 

We are to reflect on: a) how the active labour market measures can address the skills mismatch and equip youth with skills of the future, b) how integrated social protection and labour market programmes can support vulnerable jobs seekers to access decent jobs, c) why concerted actions targeting of women economic empowerment and gender-responsive and non-discrimination policies is needed, and d) how to incentivize social insurance for unemployment, maternity and sickness benefits.

I will share UNDP’s perspective to these pertinent questions, globally and for Uzbekistan. 

Let me start by emphasizing our approach to decent employment and poverty reduction as intertwined objectives of labour and social protection policies.

The importance of labour and social protection policies nexus occupy central stage, as never before. As the world continues to be gripped by an economic downturn caused by the pandemic, energy crisis, conflicts and wars no single country has been spared from unanticipated shocks and unmet expectations of citizens for accessing good quality jobs. 

In a world filled with risks and uncertainty we advocate for the development of system-wide solutions that tackle employment, poverty reduction, social protection and welfare in a coherent and and holistic manner by a) addressing the fragmentation and duplication across policies, and programmes; b) consolidation of budget resources; c) creation of efficient governance structures; and d) promotion of inclusive growth patterns. 

I believe we all agree that social protection is an important instrument that policy makers have in hand to protect vulnerable from loss of income during their lifecycle crisis and buffer the impact from loss of employment or other sudden shocks. However, by focusing on protection side, we have invested less time and resources on development of policy solutions that will empower people at risk to withstand future shocks and  gradually graduate from the dependency trap. To become a true vehicle for transformation, social protection needs to be linked to the social and economic policies and prioritize leaving no one behind. 

Building on this foundation, in several countries in partnership with other UN agencies and the World Bank, we are aiming to promote systemwide solutions with labour and social protection systems being central for helping people to deal with risks and for their progressive graduation from poverty and social welfare dependency.

This is an ambitious objective, which requires joint efforts as this process entails changing systems and institutional architecture i.e. both horizontal and vertical coordination on policy issues, which are often diffused across several sectors and institutions. To move from fragmented programmes to coherent systems will require collaboration among labour, education, skills development, health institutions, cash transfer, rural development programmes etc.

Even more, the experience shows that for effective performance of such a role, institutions must improve analytical, foresight and scenario planning capabilities that will provide evidence and anticipation of risks, complex policy trade-offs, and lead to approaches that are both cost-effective, affordable and fiscally sustainable. 

This will also require a paradigm shift to inclusion of groups which traditionally have not been covered by the system. For example, social insurance programs, such as old age pensions, disability and unemployment benefits as well as active labour market measures often benefit only formal sector workers, excluding the informal and agricultural workers, the poorest of the poor, disabled and socially excluded in remote areas.

Moreover, this requires helping out workers to adapt to technological and digital disruptions and green transformation by providing a mix of re-skilling and social protection measures that will prevent widening the gaps and just transition of the economy.

Such shift requires strategic investment in building administrative systems that can be quickly respond and expand labour and social protection programmes to new vulnerable and poor.

Case management is seen as one of the instruments which promise inclusion of the most vulnerable and hard to employ population in the system. 

This model has drawn attention of policy makers, experts and practitioners and our experience from supporting introduction of case management model has shown positive  for overcoming the inherent inefficiencies and shortcomings of labour and social protection systems, mainly caused by multiplication and rising fragmentation of social assistance benefits and insufficient coordination among providers of services in the social domain (social welfare, health, education, employment etc.). 

The main assumption is that implementation of this model of service provision increases the efficiency in the use of limited public resources and improves outcomes of provided support for the end beneficiaries. The main argument is that the provision of integrated/holistic support that addresses the intersecting vulnerabilities of individuals and families at risks can yield progressive graduation out of poverty trap and dependency from financial social assistance. 

Introduction of such system underpins substantive transformation of the labour and social protection system, the way services are organized and delivered to clients, the roles and profiles required by social workers etc. Considering the complexity of the model and the cascading effect it implies on the system, learning from other experiences can be useful. However, while certain key principles are essential for effective functioning of the case management systems, the solutions should be homegrown and fine-tuned to reflect the unique institutional set up of the country. 

In Uzbekistan - perhaps in no other area have investments been as visible as in social protection. The recent reforms encompass the development of the Social Protection Strategy, implementation of various social protection schemes (cash transfers, subsidies, grants, vouchers, etc.), establishment of three notebooks for identification of beneficiaries. While no decision on the social protection coordination body has been made yet, the reforms in the sector are outlined. 

The government would like to improve the selection criteria for social transfers, introduce a social contract with conditionalities; consolidate the existing schemes; institutionalize social workers’ function; enhance inclusive employment policies, and introduce and implement monitoring tools to assess how effective the current ALMPs are. In this respect, integrated service delivery, inclusive of a social card system, are of interest to the government. 

UNDP is therefore ready to support piloting of case management approach in Uzbekistan. 

There is not much need to bring up the key facts about the state of gender in Uzbekistan - gender segregation in occupations remains high, prevalence of women in informal economy continues to be high and gender norms and biases in the socio-economic life prevails. So, still the gender gaps as important drivers of inequalities in Uzbekistan remain. The recent UNDP HDR which also investigated gender adjusted HDI, reveals that women’s incomes in Uzbekistan are 52% of men’s income.

Though Uzbekistan achieved notable progress in closing gender gaps, women are still underrepresented in many spheres. Entrepreneurship is not an exception – the share of women entrepreneurs is currently about 25%. 

Work to narrow down the gender gaps, particularly in economy, are needed.

  • First of all, along with mainstreaming entrepreneurship support, skills building and other income-generating activities, we need to combat social norms, ensure women’s access to economic resources & welfare benefits, and remove legal and regulatory barriers that constrain women from full and free participation in the economy.
  • Second, reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care burden, by investing in quality social care services, is fundamental to gender equality in the labour market and in business sector in particular. Currently, we have launched a new intervention to specifically focus on creation of decent work opportunities for women engaged in the care economy (through up-skilling and re-skilling, skills recognition, etc.) and promoting formalization of employment among the care economy workers, and support care entrepreneurship among women.
  • Third, the digital gender gaps have to be closed.  A crucial pathway to women economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, today and in the future world of work, lies within IT sector and digital entrepreneurship. Therefore, intensified support to women in IT is critical, including in digital entrepreneurship.
To become a true vehicle for transformation, social protection needs to be linked with social and economic policies and go beyond focusing on Poverty Reduction to serve for empowering people, helping them graduate from the dependency trap and leaving no one behind.
Matilda Dimovska, UNDP Resident Representative in Uzbekistan