01/04/2005 - We, the OECD Ministers responsible for social policies, met in Paris on March 31-April 1, 2005, to discuss "Extending opportunities: how active social policies can benefit us all". The chairman of the meeting was Mr. Aart de Geus, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, with Ms. Berit Andnor, the Minister for Social Affairs of Sweden, and Mr. Geun Tae Kim, the Minister for Health and Welfare of Korea, as vice-chairs. The meeting included a Forum on "Does Social Protection have to be provided only by government?" BIAC and TUAC also participated in the Forum and held a consultation with us.
We agreed that a strong economy determines the capacity of society to achieve its social objectives. Economic growth is a critical element in providing support for families and reducing the need for government assistance. Effective economic policies are complementary to effective social policies in extending opportunities and mobilizing more assets than are currently available. Equally, effective social policies are necessary to generate economic dynamism and contribute to flexible labour markets; to ensure that childhood experiences do not lead to disadvantage in adulthood; to prevent exclusion from the labour market and society; and to ensure a sustainable system of support for the elderly. Social policies must be pro-active, stressing investment in people's capabilities and the realisation of their potential, not merely insuring against misfortune.
MAIN CONCLUSIONS OF THE MEETING:
=> Social and family policies must help give children and young people the best possible start to their lives and help them to develop and achieve through their childhood into adulthood. Providing all parents with better choices about how to balance work and family life extends opportunities, especially for women, and creates economic gains. More family-friendly policies could also help raise birth rates in those countries where they are too low.
Promoting child development requires society and families to invest adequate resources. All institutions of society and government should consider the impact of their policies on children;
Special effort should be targeted on the families that are struggling to give their children the resources, both financial and time, that they need. It is necessary to ensure that employment leads to an improved financial situation for families, that appropriate child care and educational support is available, and that cash and other benefits are designed in such a way that they effectively reduce child poverty;
A wide range of flexible family support services to assist parents in managing their parenting and working roles should be developed and resourced; such as child care, help with quality parenting or marriage guidance;
The importance of both mothers and fathers to the long-term development of children should be recognized, and both should be encouraged to play a full and active role in family life;
Childcare should be widely available, offer quality and choice based on appropriate information, be affordable and offer flexibility;
Working-time flexibility, part-time work and appropriate parental leave schemes should be promoted to help parents maintain labour market attachment and provide children with the care they need.
=> Attaining a better social balance between generations is, and will long remain, one of the most important challenges facing OECD countries. The social and financial sustainability of pension systems needs to be improved.
OECD countries should analyse the intergenerational distribution of public and private spending, and its impact over time on the distribution of incomes and assets;
It is necessary to build on past efforts to reduce old-age poverty. Longer working lives that reflect gains in life expectancy contribute to maintaining living standards and may prevent intergenerational conflicts from arising;
Adequate incomes are needed for those who have not accrued pension entitlements because of having worked in certain sectors and these should be provided in a fiscally responsible way;
Social policies should promote active ageing and independence in later life.
=> Family breakdown, the need to care for family members, illness, or the loss of a job can all lead to long-term joblessness unless appropriate social supports are in place. Social policy can lower poverty by reducing barriers to employment, supporting self-sufficiency, and by providing adequate benefits for those who cannot work. We should end the unjustified assumption that some groups such as lone parents, older workers, people with disabilities and people on social assistance for a long time cannot or should not work. The reassessment of the OECD Jobs Strategy should identify policies which will help end labour market exclusion.
Policies should be tailored to individual needs and intervention should be early;
If the government provides the resources to overcome barriers to work and participation in society, then individuals have a responsibility to take advantage of this opportunity;
Work must pay for benefit recipients. This can be achieved by redesign of tax and benefit systems, through measures to provide adequate wages, and by making the non-financial aspects of work more attractive;
Disability benefits should also be designed to encourage employment, not prevent it. Helping people with disabilities to work will require additional commitment, and investment.
=> These social policy challenges must be a shared responsibility. Common purpose is needed among all concerned (including employers, workers, their respective representative organisations, all levels of government, individuals, communities and a broad range of non-government organisations) in order to better align economic dynamism with social objectives. Individual beneficiaries of social programmes have responsibilities to contribute to their own development.
All key social actors need to be brought into a policy dialogue to improve the accessibility, responsiveness, quality and efficiency of social policies but clear program objectives must be established and pursued if policies are to be effective;
Private provision, both profit and not-for-profit, may be promoted where it can offer more choice, ensure appropriate coverage and more flexible and efficient social protection;
To make effective use of partnerships, market and quasi-market solutions for service delivery require clear responsibilities and roles for the different actors. Public bodies must be able to regulate provision effectively in order to ensure continuous, accessible and adequate service delivery to citizens, and to be accountable for public funds;
Enterprises' willingness to bring excluded or endangered groups into work and keep them there should be enhanced, through exhortation, regulation or incentives as appropriate.
AREAS FOR FURTHER OECD WORK
We invite the OECD to carry out further work in the following areas:
Well-being of children and support for families
The OECD should identify which interventions alleviate and will contribute to the eventual eradication of child poverty, break the cycle of inter-generational deprivation, and develop the capacity of children to make successful transitions through the life course. The OECD should look at the potential role of policy in supporting families.
Future social and economic implications of pension policies
The OECD should analyse the effects of pension system reforms on individual's financial and social situations and the wider economic implications of those reforms, and assess the need for further modernisation of pension systems.
Disabled people in the labour market
The OECD should identify social and labour market policies that can help maintain disabled people in work where possible, and get them back into work where necessary. The OECD will also consider appropriate policies to address the particular problems of young disabled people.
A new balance between rights and responsibilities in social security
The OECD should look at the appropriate balance between active social policy, sanctions and financial incentives for different groups, including those on the margins of the labour market. Social policies play a valuable redistributive role but they may also cause institutional obstacles that hinder the outflow of benefit recipients to work. A new balance between the rights and responsibilities in social security is needed.
Life risks, life course and social policy
The OECD should identify how social and economic goals can be best achieved, for example by policy interventions at certain critical 'transition points' or by redistribution of income from one point in the life course to another. The OECD should further assess the best ways of financing social policies across the life course.
Fore more information on the ministerial meeting: www.oecd.org/socialmin2005