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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Asia and Pacific’s workforce poor or on brink of poverty – UN report

The working-age population of Asia and the Pacific is under pressure; denied decent work opportunities and highly vulnerable to systemic shocks such as pandemics or economic downturns, finds a new report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

ESCAP
Participants at the the seventh session of the ESCAP Committee on Social Development. Photo credit: ESCAP/Suwat Chancharoensuk

The report was released at the seventh session of the Committee on Social Development, which opened on Tuesday, September 6, 2022, and brings together high-level government officials and other stakeholders to discuss regional strategies for building a healthy, protected and productive workforce.

“Our region spends less than half of the global average on social protection. Almost 60 per cent of the population has no social protection coverage against normal life events such as pregnancy, child-raising, sickness, disability, unemployment or simply getting old,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.

According to the “2022 Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific: The Workforce We Need”, although progress has been made since 2015, the region’s workforce remains ill-equipped to respond to the ongoing and emerging mega trends of climate change, ageing societies and digitalisation. Two-thirds of the workforce or 1.4 billion people are employed informally and as a result, half are surviving on less than $5.50 a day.

Such vulnerability has far-reaching consequences. Asia and the Pacific’s labour productivity has fallen below the global average and sustainable livelihoods remain out of reach for millions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of affordable health care and social protection contributed to pushing 243 million people into poverty.

Over the next three days, the bi-annual Committee will also review policies and good practices to further strengthen social protection, the situation of older persons, and disability-inclusive development in the region.

“The pandemic has made it clear that no one is safe unless everyone is safe. Solving socio-economic problems entails working together, sharing responsibilities and distributing costs and burdens fairly and equitably,” said Ariunzaya Ayush, Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of Mongolia, who was elected as Chair of the Committee.

“We stand ready to work with other member States and stakeholders to bridge the remaining gaps in order to better protect and empower the vulnerable so that they could enjoy a safe and dignified life in the society,” said Chuti Krairiksh, Minister of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand.

On the sidelines of the Committee, ESCAP launched the Social Protection Online Toolbox (SPOT) to support countries in their efforts to broadening social protection. The platform hosts a data-driven Social Protection Simulator, e-learning courses on inclusive social protection, advocacy materials as well as research and policy papers.

An innovative tool, the Simulator draws on national household income and expenditure surveys to support policymakers in designing non-contributory child, disability and old-age benefits in 19 countries, and enables users to estimate the cost of expanding social coverage in their countries.

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