What Can Social Policy Do in the Post 2015 Agenda?

photo credit: UNRISD
photo credit: UNRISD

Sarah Cook, Director of United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, talked about the role of social policy in the post 2015 development agenda. She stresses the necessity for policies in different sectors to link up together. Through the process of structural change, social policy can play an important role. I summarised some of her key messages.

Definition of social development

Social development is process of structural change, change in social structure, ethnicity, and class relations etc. That definition brings us to really think about the society.

Three key messages for social development

  • Gender and sustainable development requires us to separate pillars: social, economic and environmental pillars of development; but we need to rather think about interconnection, synergy and trade-off.
  • Reducing poverty and generating inclusive society cannot be achieved only through focus on poorest or vulnerable groups. Social dimensions or issues need to focus rather on universal approach, while bringing all groups together in societies, and working across all classes, gender etc.
  • Effective instruments for more sustainable development need to be considered. For example, conditional cash transfers have been very popular and important instrument for social protection. But they dominate discussions of social policies. Those are important but not sufficient. We need to look at additional instruments.

Two key shifts in the development from MDGs to post 2015

  • We now more concerns of Inequality; not just about income inequality but also about other forms of inequality such as social, political, economical inequality and inequality in relation of power.
  • We need to look at relationship between social issues and the productive economy. We cannot just look at health, educational issues of concern to women separate from issues of labour markets, employment or even macroeconomic issues.

What kinds of policy instruments are available to address these intersectoral challenges?

One largely neglected policy area is transformative social policy. It is essentially referred to policies in the social domain that have the potential to contribute to the transformation in economic and social relations; production, consumption and distribution. They can then lead to sustainable development outcomes. Four key functions of social policies are available.

1. Protection
Social policies cannot just be protection. That is about social protection and important. But we argue that if social policy to contribute to economic transformation, we need to look at other sectors.

2. Distribution
Inclusive or cohesive society needs to think about the distributional policies. It is not just about social protection and expenditure side but also revenue raising side such as the distribution of taxes.

3. Universalism
We have seen social policies that contributes to inclusive development universal process rather than targeted. All people receive benefits but they need to pay taxes.

4. Reproduction
Reproduction function is largely neglected. We know broadly that social reproduction is undertaken predominantly by women and in many countries it is predominantly unpaid work; therefore it has been neglected in many policy debates. There are actually many implications and instruments in different sectors to help women connect them to the productive economy. But these are often discussed in separate secotrs. We need to take more interaction and holistic view of society and economy.

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