Press Releases

    Background Release

    12 February 2002


    NEW YORK, 6 February (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission for Social Development will hold its fortieth session from 11 to 21 February at Headquarters in New York.

    During its current two-week session the Commission will consider the priority theme, "Integration of social and economic policy," focusing on its three main topics of discussion: social aspects of macroeconomic policies; social assessment as a policy tool; and expenditures in the social sector as a productive factor. Under the agenda item on the review of United Nations plans and programmes pertaining to the situation of particular social groups, the Commission is also scheduled to take up the outcome of the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing and the report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability. As it begins its consideration of its main theme on Monday morning, the Commission will hold a high-level governmental and expert panel discussion on these issues. It will also have before it a related report of the Secretary-General.

    A functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Commission for Social Development consists of 46 members elected by that body. The mandate and the membership of the Commission were expanded following the World Summit for Social Development, which was held in Copenhagen in 1995. Ever since, the Commission has been the key United Nations body in charge of the follow-up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action. It meets once a year in New York, usually in February.

    The Commission will have before it a report on the Third Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Disability (document E/CN.5/2002/4) and the report of the Secretary-General on the preparation for and observance of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family (document E/CN.5/2002/2).

    Report of Secretary-General

    The present report by the Secretary-General on "Integration of Social and Economic Policy" (document E/CN.5/2002/3) discusses the final outcome documents of three expert group meetings on the following subjects: "Social aspects of macroeconomic policies"; "Expenditures in the social sector as a productive factor"; and "Social assessment as a policy tool". The report highlights the major conclusions of the three expert group meetings.

    The report also discusses the framework for the integration of economic and social policy as well as ways of conceptualizing the distinction between economic and social dimensions. It highlights the core functions of public policy, institutional and political factors and necessary measures to bridge the gap between economic and social policy. It further provides an overview of key challenges of social and economic policy, including persistent and increasing levels of inequality, a fiscal squeeze, the influence of transnational corporations in the design and implementation of national policies, and the impact of armed conflict and HIV/AIDS.

    Concerning "Social aspects of macroeconomic policies", the report focuses on the many significant social aspects of macroeconomic policies, including: the need to broaden policy objectives; structural adjustment and economic liberalization, including social implications and country examples; integrating macroeconomic and social policy-making, including strengthening integrated public policy; and research and evidence.

    Regarding promising strategies, says the report, it would seem desirable to focus on social and economic development at the household level, because this is where long-term wealth is built and where social and economic objectives coincide. One avenue would be a concentration on capabilities as defined by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. Capabilities might include meeting basic needs, providing access to education, connecting to the Internet, increasing voice and freedom, and building tangible assets. Each of these strategies can be specified and tested and each is likely to have multiple positive social and economic effects.

    On "Expenditures in the social sector as a productive factor", the report deals with trends in expenditures in the social sector and conflicting priorities in fiscal policy, the roles of the State, the private sector and non-governmental organizations and the need for constructive partnership in human development and the importance of good governance.

    Concerning "social assessment as a policy tool", the report explains the concept and uses of social assessment and the conversion of research results into policy-making.

    The report contains several recommendations, both on the national and the international level. The national recommendations state that in order to attain the Millennium development goals and advance development and the overall well-being of people, national macroeconomic and social policies must be effectively coordinated and integrated.

    The report recommends that social development objectives, such as full employment, reduction of inequality and of poverty, social protection and the provision of basic social services must receive balanced weight in the formulation of macroeconomic policies. Furthermore, policies must be tailored to national institutional conditions, technical capabilities and method of governance, as this would promote consensus building, create national policy ownership and increase the likelihood for success of the policies.

    In the interest of consensus building, it is recommended that macroeconomic and social policy formulation and decision-making must be inclusive and involve government ministries and parliaments as well as civil society partners. For countries undertaking economic reforms, the macroeconomic policy emphasis on stabilization and allocational efficiency should be balanced with respect to the social objectives of creating employment, reducing poverty, inequality and social exclusion, and minimizing and mitigating economic shocks to the poor and economically vulnerable.

    On the international level, the report recommends that spending in the social sector be linked to government efforts in achieving the Millennium development goals, which would require that they not fall below a certain floor. Added to that, setting an international standard of a minimum proportion of national income spent on social sectors would encourage the adoption of national targets and play an important role as a "political contract" for allocating funds for social development within national budgets. It would also provide a context for contributions by bilateral and multilateral donors. It is recommended that international development organizations and bilateral donors intensify their efforts to provide both financial and technical assistance for strengthening national capacities of developing countries and economies in transition in the areas of social and macroeconomic policy-making.

    A strategic approach is needed to demonstrate that increasing social expenditure is not only desirable but cost-effective, says the report. Such a strategy could include the following steps: a calculation of the economic costs (in terms of low productivity, limited competitiveness in international trade, and low attractiveness to foreign direct investment) of the social impact of current social problems; the potential economic gains of adequate investment in comprehensive, effective social policy; the definition of required social outcomes and the precise means to achieve them; and an advocacy process linked to the Commission for Social Development and the Economic and Social Council with participation of politicians and private sector leaders adding political credibility to the arguments and the value of increased expenditure.

    The report contains four annexes, three of which feature the expert group meeting reports on social aspects of macroeconomic policies, expenditure in the social sector as a productive factor, and social assessment as a policy tool. It also contains one annex which lists the multilateral efforts made by the United Nations agencies and funds.

    Additional Reports

    Before the Commission was the Secretary-General’s report on preparations for the observance in 2004 of the tenth anniversary of the Year of the Family (document E/CN.5/2002/2), which covers the period from 1 February to December 2001, describing recent initiatives and recommendations.

    According to the report, the upcoming event has been considered in various United Nations meetings, including those of the Commission for Social Development, the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly plenary. Several governments have already endorsed an active observance of the anniversary. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs has initiated preparatory work and begun to disseminate relevant information, promoting the message that families are the economic and social engines of society. Efforts are under way to develop a common understanding of the issues involved. Further initiatives are being invited at the local and national levels, however, and the report contains suggestions to that effect.

    Among the recommended activities are the establishment of national coordinating committees for the observance of the tenth Year of the Family anniversary; public information campaigns; designation of national days, weeks, or months on the anniversary; and development of an information strategy in cooperation with the Department of Public Information to promote the tenth anniversary. The regional commissions and other bodies of the United Nations system are encouraged to play an active role in preparations for the anniversary. The report also states that intergovernmental organizations with a strong interest in family issues should review the influence of their activities on families and develop specific programmes in support of local and national initiatives connected with the event.

    Annexed to the document are the guidelines for the establishment of national coordinating committees, which should be entrusted with monitoring and evaluating various programmes of both direct and indirect concern to the family.

    Also before the Commission was a note by the Secretary-General (document E/CN.5/2002.4) transmitting the final report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development on his third mandate, 2000-2002. The report says that nearly 10 years have passed since the General Assembly adopted the 22 Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. During that time, the rules have developed into a major policy-making tool used by governments and international and national organizations (NGOs) in the disability field. In human rights development, the Standard Rules were recognized as a yardstick for ways to put an end to exclusion and discrimination.

    To make the Rules, an even more effective tool for future development of policy, an even more effective tool for future development policy, legislation and programmes, the Special Rapporteur proposes a series of measures to complement them. These recommendations include a twin-track approach to human rights in the elaboration of a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities; improved cooperation between United Nations bodies in the field of disability; and continued monitoring of policy development.

    Attached to the report is a proposed supplement to the Standard Rules, entitled "Reaching the most vulnerable." Its findings, says the Special Rapporteur, are based on the analysis of gaps and shortcomings in the Standard Rules identified by the Special Rapporteur on Disability in his report to the thirty-sixth session of the Commission for Social Development (document E/CN.5/2000.3). The most obvious common feature of the comments and recommendations in the supplement, says the Special Rapporteur, is that they bring the needs of the most vulnerable among children and adults with disabilities into focus. The recommendations address such areas as: adequate standard of living and poverty alleviation; housing (including the issue of residential institutions); health and medical care; emergency situations; access to the social environment; communication issues, including information and communication technology; sign language; personnel training; gender; children with disabilities and the family; violence and abuse; and developmental psychiatric disabilities.

    Overview of Commission

    The Commission is a functional body of the Economic and Social Council. Its 46 members are elected for terms of office of four years on the following basis: 12 from African States; 10 from Asian States; five from Eastern European States; nine from Latin American and Caribbean States; and 10 from Western European and Other States.

    As a result of the Social Summit, the mandate of the Commission was reviewed and its membership expanded from 31 to 46 members in 1996. Past themes of the Commission have been: review of the Social Summit; social services for all; social integration and participation of all; productive employment and sustainable livelihoods; eradicating poverty and enhancing social protection, and reducing vulnerability in a globalizing world.

    Committee Membership

    The current members of the Commission with their terms of expiry are: Algeria (2002), Argentina (2002), Austria (2004), Bangladesh (2004), Belarus (2003), Benin (2003), Bulgaria (2004), China (2004), Comoros (2004), Croatia (2002), Czech Republic (2004), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (2002), Denmark (2004), Dominican Republic (2002), Ecuador (2003), El Salvador (2004), France (2003), Gabon (2004), Germany (2003), Ghana (2003), Guatemala (2002), Guinea (2003), Haiti (2002), Indonesia (2003), Iran (2002), Italy (2004), Jamaica (2000), Japan (2003), Kazakhstan (2004), Mexico (2004), Morocco (2002), Nigeria (2003), Peru (2003), Republic of Korea (2003), Russian Federation (2003), South Africa (2004), Spain (2002), Sudan (2003), Swaziland (2002), Sweden (2002), Switzerland (2004), Thailand (2002), Turkey (2002), United Republic of Tanzania (2004), United States (2003), and Viet Nam (2004).

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