Opening the session, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Liu Zhenmin, argued that the pandemic had highlighted the critical role of social policies. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated inequalities, and multiple forms of deprivation”, Mr. Zhenmin said, remembering that many countries reacted by instituting emergency measures.

 “One key lesson is the importance of universal access to social protection, to enhance economic and food security, in times of crisis”, he said. 

He said that from December 2020 to May 2021, total spending on social protection rose by almost 270 per cent, to $2.9 trillion. 

Now, the Under-Secretary-General believes many of these measures must become permanent to get back on track to deliver the 2030 Agenda.

According to the latest UN data, the world is not on course to meet the fundamental Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), of eradicating extreme poverty.

Without decisive action, the number of people living in extreme poverty is expected to reach 600 million, or 7 per cent of the world’s population, by 2030. 

Four priorities

As societies around the world begin to move towards recovery, Mr. Zhenmin pointed to four priorities.

First, investing in people: with health, education, and affordable housing as important elements for rebuilding livelihoods. 

Second, address multiple causes of poverty, hunger, and inequality, by creating decent work and other income generating opportunities, he said. 

Third, build universal social protection systems, that are adequate, comprehensive, and sustainable. 

And, lastly, make food systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. 


Two Students on the blackboard in the classroom reading out loud in Niger

Two Students on the blackboard in the classroom reading out loud in Niger, by © WFP/Evelyn Fey

The President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said the meeting should address the end of the pandemic, framed by some key questions. 

What does our world look like in the post-COVID era? What lessons have we learned from our responses?”, he asked. 

Noting that social protection measures had increased hugely, he reminded the meeting that implementation has been deeply uneven, particularly between developed and developing countries.

Despite that inequality, he believes “the efforts made demonstrate that social safety nets do work and could have huge impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the people we serve.”

Turning point

Mr. Shahid also asked Member States to see the pandemic as both crisis and opportunity. 

This requires us to be bold and ambitious in our intentions, and generous in our actions”, he explained. 

According to him, there are four important areas of action: invest in and share technologies, resources, and capacities; prioritize universal access to basic services and infrastructure; invest in training and education; and work quickly to close the gaps that have been exposed. 

Noting that history is replete with turning points, he asked for efforts to ensure that history remembers the pandemic, as another time for a big pivot.

“As the moment when humanity embraced a better future, pivoted to sustainability, abandoned tired excuses, and pursued a path that empowered all people, that protected our planet, that built prosperity, and that left a new generation with hope”, he concluded.