The coronavirus crisis has revealed a number of serious shortcomings in our social protection systems in general and in our health systems in particular.
The dire economic and social crisis we are now in is the consequence of decades of neoliberal austerity policies, with lack of investment in economic and social infrastructure, lack of investment in policies for families, employment, pensions, health and care systems.
Victims of this situation, everywhere, are the most vulnerable people in our societies, informal workers, migrants and asylum seekers, farmers and fisherfolk, women, children, disabled persons, indigenous people, etc.
Our failing democracies do not help to solve this crisis, on the contrary, our governments tend to become more repressive and authoritarian.
Add this to the intensifying environmental crisis due to global warming, compelling us to address the urgent need for fundamental changes in political, economic, social and environmental policies, worldwide.
Indeed, our interdependence is also crystal clear. Whether we talk of the climate, the coronavirus or poverty and inequality with the consequential migration flows, no one on this planet is detached from or independent of the global framework.
Multilateral development bank financing over the last decade has focused on mega infrastructure projects, which have not addressed the critical need for public health infrastructure. The large scale projects have focused on building ports, base load power generators and commercial pipelines, none has addressed local health care needs and social protection. Now, most of these mega infrastructure projects have been stalled due to the pandemic, even bringing down the China led Belt and Road Initiative to a standstill. Sadly the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the BRICS (Brasil, Russia, India, China and South-Africa) continue to charge debt-servicing costs in 2020 from crippled economies all over the world for projects, which have not resulted in appreciably favourable economic or sustainable development outcomes.
Thus there is now an urgent need for social infrastructure and to reorient the development pathway to ensure that we are developing financial investments, which put community health needs and social protection at the forefront of all development projects.
The economic globalisation underscores the various connexions between and among our worlds, in spite of our divergent development levels. We may not be all in the same boat, but we are definitely in the same storm.
This is why the Asia Europe People’s Forum and NGO Forum on ADB call for a fundamental re-thinking of our health care and social protection systems, which should be transformative so that social policies will be a tool for comprehensive and genuine change in our political, economic, and social systems.
We see a strengthened and broadened health care and social protection, with health and social insurances, assistance, equitable labour laws, and public services as social commons toward universal health care, continuing basic services such as water and decent shelter, sustainable livelihood and incomes. We have the right to water and decent shelters and the capability to work and earn for a living. We should have control over our rights and be encouraged and allowed to exercise our capabilities. Social commons are ours, we need to decide on them.
Moreover, the focus must be on prevention instead of on healing of illnesses, hence the imperative need to care for the environment, to know how our food is produced and how contamination comes about. We have to examine and revise the system of production to promote ecological and environment-friendly practices and make it serve the needs of the greater majority of the people.
As undeniable is the crucial importance of all health care workers whose wages and working conditions should be urgently improved. They are the ones who help the afflicted and sustain our societies in the middle of this severe crisis.
And we definitely have to look at the funding, re-orienting public expenditure, slashing military spending, fighting tax havens and illicit financial flows and through a fair and better tax system in which the wealthy and big corporations will contribute the biggest share.
To sum up, we need to arrive at and implement a comprehensive definition, design, and strategy of social protection, within a participatory and democratic framework to bring about genuine political, economic, and social change. Universal health care and social protection should not be at the service of markets, but should instead serve to prevent markets from dominating our lives and our societies.
Empowerment of the greater majority of the people is what the Asia Europe People’s Forum and the NGO Forum on ADB stand for. This is how we want to promote social transformation.
We call on States, Parliaments, Regional and Global Bodies and multilateral institutions to adopt urgent measures for universal and public health care in order to ensure the dignified living humanity under this pandemic.
We call on all global, national and local civil society to cooperate for a participatory, democratic, and transformative universal health care and social protection, for the lasting good of the social commons and for a liberating transformation for all. These measures include, i.a., living wages and guaranteed incomes as well as decent shelter.
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*** To this end, we have drafted an inspirational guidebook for a Global Charter for Social Protection Rights which is not a binding text but an inspirational guidebook that would help enable our societies to leave the neoliberal straitjacket.
We kindly invite you to support it (www.globalsocialprotectioncharter.eu) and sign on the Global Social Protection Charter along with this petition.