GENEVA (24 June 2022) – Millions of people, including some of the world’s most marginalized groups, are unable to benefit from the very systems that have been set up to protect them, said a new report published today by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
“While considerable progress has been made in recent decades to expand social protection systems, shockingly little attention has been paid to the countless individuals that are falling through the cracks of these schemes,” the independent expert, Olivier De Schutter, said in his report to the UN Human Rights Council’s 50th Session.
“By failing to address why people cannot access the benefits they are entitled to, governments risk perpetuating the very poverty and inequalities these systems are designed to wipe out,” De Schutter said.
The report details the phenomenon of ‘non-take-up’, whereby people cannot – or “choose” not to – claim much-needed benefits such as income support or housing allowance. Estimates of non-take-up remain limited. In regions where figures do exist however, rates of non-take-up appear exceedingly high: they sit at above 40% for most of the benefits considered across the EU, for instance.
Governments around the world ramped up social protection measures to mitigate the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. However, many individuals who should be protected face obstacles in claiming the benefits they are entitled to in principle.
“Unclaimed benefits are not a cost that society avoids. They are the result of costly design flaws in social protection systems and a missed opportunity to build more inclusive, resilient and prosperous economies,” De Schutter said.
“A social protection system that misses out swathes of its intended recipients is akin to a leaking watering can: it’s not only a huge waste of resources, but also leaves many gasping for sustenance.”
The report draws on input from experts, government agencies and civil society organizations, obtained through a survey that brought responses from 36 countries. It identifies a lack of awareness of available benefits, as well as complex, often humiliating processes that discourage individuals from applying as among the chief reasons why social security remains inaccessible to millions around the world.
De Schutter also pointed out that eligible individuals are missed by government databases such as social registries and therefore receive no support, while certain groups such as undocumented migrants cannot meet the conditions required to access the support they so desperately need.
“A permanent address, identification documents, or registration as a worker are all conditions of many social protection schemes, yet these are out of reach for the estimated one billion people lacking a legal identity, or the 1.6 billion men and women struggling as informal workers,” he added.
The report suggests simplifying application procedures and strengthening in-person public services as ways to address gaps in coverage. It urges governments to improve monitoring of non-take-up and deliver targeted outreach strategies, with the participation of people in poverty.
“Governments have a duty not just to provide social protection on paper, but to ensure individuals are aware of – and can access – the benefits to which they are entitled,” De Schutter said.
“Marginalized groups should not suffer because of deficiencies in systems set up to support them. Governments must pay this underreported yet urgent challenge the attention it deserves.”
Read the report.
Watch Olivier De Schutter’s presentation to the Human Rights Council.
Mr. Olivier De Schutter is the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights since 1st May 2020. He was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and is part of the Special Procedures, the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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