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We need social protection systems that are based on solidarity, sharing of risks, and built on collective bargaining and social dialogue, democratic structures and long-term strategies to combat poverty and address inequalities and inequity. Universal social protection is essential to achieve gender equality and there is a strong link between the provision of public services and the ability of women to enter the labour market, to address unpaid care work responsibilities and to ensure that children have access to health and social services.

The push for the individualization of social protection has had a major impact on the delivery of these services, including on the provision of health and social care, pensions and unemployment benefits, to which austerity programmes have added perverse effects that lead to social exclusion or risk exposure – instead of inclusion and protection. The individual defined contribution pension schemes that the World Bank has been pushing for in Chile and in Eastern Europe in the 1990s are now coming to maturity. Trade unions have warned many times against those schemes, and our concerns have become reality since these schemes fail to deliver decent levels of pensions.

Genuine support for universal social security and healthcare could make important contributions to the achievement of decent work and reduced inequality. However, the international financial institutions (IFIs) continue to promote social protection reforms that focus on targeting, which is less efficient and more costly, rather than broad coverage. Also, investments by the World Bank in for-profit private healthcare through its private-sector arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC), are inconsistent with the objective of prioritizing universal health care rather than services for those able to pay for them.

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