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Guterres calls for accelerated action on jobs, poverty eradication

Almost two years into the COVID-19 crisis, a huge divergence in the recovery is undermining global trust and solidarity, according to a new policy brief on jobs and poverty eradication, outlined by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

The secretary-general presented his brief at the High-Level meeting on Jobs and Social Protection for Poverty Eradication that gathered, virtually, world leaders, heads of major international organisations, financial institutions, civil society, private sector and academia.

The UN chief warned that the pandemic had not only confirmed but deepened existing inequalities.

Investment in jobs, social protection and a just transition to a net-zero emissions future, particularly in low and middle-income countries, could prevent a further deepening of the inequalities.

“Global solidarity so far has been completely inadequate,” Guterres said. “A renewed social contract…should be central to the recovery.”

The policy brief cited extreme poverty as having increased by between 119 and 224 million people, between March and December 2020 – the first such increase in over 21 years.

More than three-quarters of these “new poor” are in middle-income countries. At the same time, the wealth of billionaires increased by over $3.9 trillion.

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The report noted that because of the pandemic, there were an estimated 75 million fewer jobs in 2021 than there were before the crisis, and 23 million fewer projected in 2022.

It also estimates that 8.8 per cent of total working hours were lost in 2020 – equivalent to the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers.

This corresponds to a loss of $3.3 trillion in labour income before government support.

To achieve “a job-rich recovery” and a “just transition,” at least $982 billion is needed to respond to the immediate labour market shocks of the crisis, the report said.

The secretary-general called for universal social protection by 2030, including universal health care, income protection, education and skills training, particularly for women and girls.

The many ad-hoc and temporary measures that have been implemented over the past year “provide a starting point”  Guterres said.

To achieve this we must mobilise significant public and private investments – some $1.2 trillion to achieve universal social protection coverage for low and middle-income countries, he said.

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Investments must also be ramped up to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address the risks from climate change that could jeopardise 1.2 billion jobs, equivalent to 40 per cent of the global labour force.

At the presentation, Guterres announced the creation of a new Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for a just transition, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The aim of the Accelerator is to create at least 400 million jobs by 2030, primarily in the green and care economies, and extend social protection floors by 2025 to 50 per cent of people currently not covered, he said.

The upcoming meetings of international financial institutions, the G20, and COP26 will be “a pivotal moment to put the world on a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive path,” Guterres said.

“Global cooperation is indispensable to building resilience to future shocks, through economies that work for everyone”, he stressed.

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Also speaking at the event, Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), warned that the differences between developed and developing countries were growing, “the contrary of building back better.”

He said that “the world was not prepared for COVID-19”, but now “must be ready to deliver a recovery that benefits all”, which for him means injecting the necessary finance to support all countries.

“The Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection is designed to channel national and international, public and private financial flows to provide social protection floors for the four billion people.

“To provide social protection for the people who fall outside any existing coverage and to the creation of decent jobs, above all in the green economy and in the care economy on the scale now urgently needed,” he said.

For Mr. Ryder, “the level of ambition is high, because it would be irresponsible to be less ambitious’’.

By Cecilia Ologunagba

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