UNRC Opening Remarks at the Social Dialogue on the Social Protection System in the Republic of Serbia

Opening speech by Françoise Jacob, UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia at the event Social Dialogue on the Social Protection System in the Republic of Serbia

Doberdan, good morning

Once again thank you for inviting to participate to this important dialog. As you all know, our UN agenda is grounded in the principle of Leave No One Behind, and this is what social protection is about. Social protection aims to reduce or eliminate the lifelong consequences of poverty and exclusion, and also tackle multiple dimensions of decent work, education, health care, food security, income security). Social protection is a human right. It can be a powerful tool in the battle against poverty and inequality.

With the covid pandemic, we saw the benefits and shortfalls of existing social policies and mechanisms. In Serbia, the assistance aimed to be generous and universal, but it was costly, not targeted and those who needed it the most did not get enough. Covid reminded us how social protection and social inclusion policies must be designed to address the underlying, historical and new drivers of exclusion, including prejudices, legal and policy frameworks, and how institutions are set up and deliver services.

Considering the level and diversity of expertise in the room, I will only make 3 short points:

1. Data/Budgeting/Digitalisation: we are making progress on data, and we need more. The MICS study and how it is being used, show that data is critical to develop better evidence based. We need to continue our joint efforts to produce, share and use data effectively and more intelligently, so that we can target the assistance better, according to groups and needs.

Data links to budgeting, a most powerful tool at many levels including in municipalities. Social protection budgeting touch many sectors, and we must promote that understanding. For example: infrastructure should be designed to ensure disability access, that means another budget line than the direct social protection line. Budgeting also link to financing, and we need to develop sustainable financing mechanisms for specific services, such as support to women victims of violence – the type of services that is mostly provided by CSOs.

Data also relates to digitilisation. While there is a strong drive to digilitalise many services, including to expand social cash transfers (and make them more effective), I want to mention that digitalization can lead to isolation and disempowerment for many citizens. Example of France: 17% of people in 2019 did not have access to, or the ability to deal with digitalized services. So as we draft the new solutions for the years to come, we need to ensure that the people connection remain, beyond solidarity actions during emergencies. Again, this is where the CSOs play a big role.

2. My second point is about Coordination= great to see so many stakeholders in this space today. I think we need to put a lot more efforts and good will in working effectively and more intelligently together. For example, at system and policy levels, Social protection systems should also be well-aligned with labour markets, and employment policies can help address inequalities and promote more inclusive growth. So the revision of the expiring employment policy needs to consider the social aspect very carefully. From the UN side, under our on-going reform, we are committed to pull our resources and capacities together and develop integrated solutions. We need to work better with the ministries present here and avoid fragmentation of our support. And make better use of the knowledge that is generated by all of us.

3. My third point is on What the UN can and will do? Social protection in its wider meaning is one of 3 strategic priorities of our cooperation framework.  There are many players in Serbia, and so much investments in the years to come. It will be the duty of the UN to focus more and more on those left behind, on the groups at risk, on the vulnerable communities – the most vulnerable children, the most vulnerable elderlies with no support. We will continue to shape best practices, such as the work that will be presented later on demographic resilience. We also want to make sure that we build inclusive solutions with our partners, including the banks and the private sector that include realistic options for these groups. It is not enough to have an energy transition strategy; it needs to be fair and inclusive. The UN should work on such best practices. We don’t want a 2 speed Serbia.

To conclude, I see that our common objective today and for the years to come, must be to ensure that those most at risk gain access to the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social, cultural and political life.

Speech by
Françoise Jacob
UN Resident Coordinator
Françoise Jacob
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office