Building inclusive societies with universal social protection

Ecumenical consultation explores the role of churches in strengthening the social contract between governments and citizens

(LWI) – The COVID-19 pandemic “has clearly revealed the need for social protection for all. It therefore challenges churches to rethink our approach to building more just and inclusive societies.”

Participating in an ecumenical consultation on “Feeding the Social Contract”, organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Act Church of Sweden (CoS), LWF Global Advocacy Officer Isaiah Toroitich stressed that the issue of Universal social protection is not only a key economic issue, but it is also a key human right. The February 3 online meeting explored the role of churches and faith-based organizations (FBOs) in strengthening the social contract between governments and their citizens, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

The consultation featured responses from Africa, Asia and Latin America to a new report published by Act CoS and London-based think tank Development Pathways. Authors Stephen Kidd and Gunnel Axelsso Nycander, policy adviser to Act CoS, noted that the bond of trust between citizens and government is essential to the development of peaceful and equitable societies. They argued that the provision of universal social protection, in the form of accessible health, education and social security benefits, is crucial to building this relationship of mutual trust.

State-funded social protection [is] a moral imperative and a human right for all.

LWF Twelfth Assembly Resolution on Social Protection in Times of Inequality

Nycander pointed to a resolution from the last LWF Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia, which states that churches and faith-based organizations “have a vital role to play in actively working for just societies and ensuring social protection for all.” . The resolution also “affirms that publicly funded social protection is a moral imperative and a human right for all, and especially for those who have been rendered invisible by current economic and development realities.”

Kidd traced how European nations developed public services and universal social security provisions to rebuild their societies in the aftermath of World War II. In contrast, he noted that a weak social contract leads to fractures and conflicts that can eventually result in failed states. Universal benefits for children, the elderly, the unemployed or the disabled are much more effective in fighting poverty than programs targeting the poor which invariably fail to reach those most in need, he insisted. .

Responding to the report, Isobel Frye, director of the Institute for Poverty and Inequality Studies based in South Africa, questioned its relevance for many countries in the South, where, she said, the Deep mistrust between governments and citizens dates back to colonial times. In her country, she added, the constitution guarantees social support for all but the distribution is very unequal. The government’s ability to deliver on its promises is hampered by multinational mining companies that do not pay taxes but extract vital resources and revenues from the country.

Churches can change discourses on stigma

Annabella Sibrián from Guatemala said her country exemplified the vicious cycle of low investment in public services, privatization of health care and education leading to resentment and protests against government corruption and “the wealthy elites who don’t want to pay taxes. Sibrián, who leads an international platform against impunity, said faith-based organizations can change “narratives around the stigmatization of the poor that leads to new inequalities”. Churches, she insisted, must “maintain their prophetic mission, calling out inequalities and calling for a new social contract based on universal human rights.”

Reverend Philip Peacock of India noted how declining public investment in health spending in recent years in his country has led to the collapse of public health care during the COVID pandemic. Peacock, the justice and witness executive of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and a member of the New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA) initiative, said the crisis began in 1991 when India joined the structural adjustment program of the World Bank and the international community. Monetary Fund, forcing the country to reduce public spending to receive loans. Churches, he added, must be “continuously critical” of states and institutions “to ensure that they act in the interest of the people.”

Participants noted that during the pandemic, the wealth of the wealthiest billionaires has increased dramatically, while those with the lowest incomes have been the hardest hit and continue to suffer as governments make further spending cuts. public. Uhuru Dempers, head of the social development office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, said wealthy mining companies in his country do not pay taxes and do not receive support from investors in Western countries. . When the government attempted to revise mining taxation, he explained, the Namibian prime minister “received threatening letters regarding the consequences of discouraging investors with unfavorable terms”.

LWF/P. Coupling

Joel C. Hicks