Gaps in social protection systems render millions poor – Amnesty International

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By Anna Chibamu

AMNESTY International has called for citizens’ universal social protection amid growing poverty levels recorded globally.

This follows a series of crises exposed gaps in state support and protection systems where over half of the world’s population faces hunger or is trapped in a cycle of poverty and deprivation.

The human rights organization on Wednesday said lack of social security has left billions of people vulnerable to economic shocks and conflict.

“A combination of crises has revealed how ill-prepared many states are to provide essential help to people.

‘’It is shocking that over 4 billion people, or about 55% of the world’s population, have no recourse to even the most basic social protection.

“Lack of social security in many states has left communities more exposed to sudden economic shocks, the consequences of conflict, climate change, or other upheaval,” Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard said.

Callamard highlighted that results of these crises which include widespread hunger, higher unemployment and anger and deteriorating living standards, had motivated protests around the world, which are often brutally suppressed.

She added that rising food prices, climate change, and the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were driving a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, and leading to increased social unrest and protests.

“We urge states to ensure that social security coverage such as sickness and disability payments, healthcare provision, pensions for older people, child support, family benefits and income support is available to every person who may need it.”

According to Callamard, universal social protection could address the violations of the current economic and social rights that are often at the heart of grievances and protest.

“Instead of viewing peaceful protest as an expression of people’s attempts to claim their rights, authorities have frequently responded to demonstrations with unnecessary or excessive use of force.

“Peaceful protest is a human right and Amnesty International campaigns to Protect the Protest,” added Callamard.

The briefing urged international creditors to reschedule or cancel debts to enable them to better fund social protection.

In Zimbabwe, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) gives a paltry pay-out to pensioners and other beneficiaries.

Government has not been able to give beneficiaries enough money to cover basic needs such as food and medical insurance resulting in early deaths among citizens due to stress or otherwise preventable diseases.

Added Callamard: “People have been brought to their knees by these crises, and when it comes to fixing the problems, states should get serious about clamping down on tax abuse.

“We cannot continue to look away as inequality soars, and those struggling are left to suffer. Tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance by individuals and corporations are depriving states and particularly lower income countries of the resources they need.”

According to the IMF’s annual report around 60% of low-income countries are in debt distress or at a high risk of debt distress, and risk defaulting on repayments.

“Debt cancellation or rescheduling would free up substantial funding in many countries to pay for social protection.”

Zimbabwe is among countries owing international financial institutions.