Opening Statement at Social Development Committee

Delivered at UNCC in Bangkok, Thailand

Clinical Professor Emeritus, Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Minister for Public Heath of the Royal Thai Government,

Ministers,

Excellencies,

Very distinguished delegates,

Welcome to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and to the Social Development Committee. I am delighted to be with you and to be opening this session alongside Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, the Royal Thai Government’s Minister for Public Health. The Kingdom of Thailand has recent experience in expanding public health care networks. I am looking forward to learning more about these efforts and others underway to support social development across our region.

Today, UN ESCAP is publishing the Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific, entitled Poorly Protected. I would like to use it to take stock of the challenges facing vulnerable groups. To set out areas where we may wish to focus our response. And make the case for further investment in social protection. Three years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, considerable challenges remain. 1.2 billion people are still trapped in poverty. 400 million live in extreme poverty. Inequalities within and between countries are widening.

This increasing inequality is worth considering. It is undermining progress towards the 2030 Agenda. Income inequalities grew in almost 40 percent of Asia-Pacific countries since the early 1990’s. In several of our region’s countries, the richest top 5% control close to 70% of the nation’s total private wealth. Had the proceeds of growth been shared more equitably over the past decade – an estimated 140 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty.

Overall access to basic services is increasing in our region. I am looking forward to learning how you are improving this access on the ground. Yet we know that significant sections of our populations remain trapped in poverty because of curtailed access. Quality education, decent work, bank accounts and clean cooking fuels are unavailable to large parts of the rural population. We estimate 1.5 billion people still do not have access to modern sanitation services. One billion people work in dangerous, low-paid and precarious employment, with no social protection.

UN ESCAP’s Social Outlook identifies four vulnerable groups being left behind.

Persons with disabilities or health limitations are particularly vulnerable. That is significant, as one in six persons live with a disability in our region. In lower-middle income countries, two thirds of those living in poverty have health problems or a disability.

Older persons, especially older women, is another exposed group. That is a major challenge as the number of older persons is expected to double by 2050. In the region’s upper middle-income countries, two thirds of the poor are currently over 50.

Migrants constitute an increasingly large vulnerable group. Most international migration happens in our region, which is home to 62 million migrants. The majority are low skilled and many cut off from public and social services.

Women remain more exposed to falling into poverty than men, at all stages of their life. Female labour force participation has fallen since 1990. Women in employment are often in the informal sector. They are more likely to do dangerous, low paid work.

Our analysis finds all these groups, as well as poor and marginalised people in cities and rural areas, lack adequate social protection in critical points in their lives. And concludes expanding social protection is the most effective means of breaking the cycle of poverty and social exclusion.

This conclusion is aligned with the ambition of countries across Asia and the Pacific. Our region has committed to social protection at the global and regional levels. It lies the heart of the 2030 Agenda and has been reaffirmed in ESCAP resolutions. Yet while investments in social protection have increased over the past two decades, social protection remains the preserve of a minority. Our region spends less than one third of the global average. 60 percent of our population is at risk of being pushed into poverty by pregnancy, sickness, disability, unemployment or old age.

The evidence points to a simple correlation. Countries which have spent a higher share of their budget on people’s development have achieved the greatest poverty reduction. UN ESCAP quantifies additional investments needed at some $280 billion a year to close the gap as a share of GDP in these sectors. Increasing spending across these areas could lift 330 million people out of poverty and 50 million out of extreme poverty. Cambodia, Bhutan, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam have led from the front with this approach and have expertise to share. This is key, as our report concludes smart investment in social protection could help eliminate extreme poverty in several countries by 2030.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

At UN ESCAP, we know excellent work to strengthen social protection, as well as health care and education is underway across our region. We are committed to joining forces with all of you to help share experience and replicate best practice to protect marginalised groups. We invite you to explore options on how to strengthen regional cooperation to close social protection gaps and implement the SDGs. Your guidance will determine the future focus of our work. I am looking forward to hearing the outcome of your deliberations.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you a successful committee.