Disability-inclusive social protection: How SOCIEUX+ is addressing the needs and rights of persons with disabilities

In the last year, disability inclusion has been one of the most requested support areas for partner institutions worldwide. In this article, we analyse the recent SOCIEUX+ activities carried out in the field of social protection.

This year on World Hearing Day, 3 March, the European Commission published the European Union (EU) Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030, which builds upon the previous Disability Strategy 2010-2020. The current strategy establishes the objectives of the EU to improve the lives of persons with disabilities, who constitute 25% of the total European population (around 87 million Europeans). It focuses on three main themes: rights; independent living and autonomy; and, non-discrimination and equal opportunities. It is therefore highly concerned with equality considerations. In this strategy, social protection systems such as disability benefits, old-age income, health insurance, and cash and non-cash benefits, are particularly important to persons with disabilities and their families, and promote equity in the society

SOCIEUX+ has carried out technical, peer-to-peer cooperation activities on disability inclusivity since its inception, including in the areas of labour and employment. In the last year, disability has been one of the most requested support areas from our partner institutions worldwide in social protection.

In the four countries where disability-related cooperation actions are currently underway – Cambodia, Mauritius, Armenia, and Panama – experts mobilised by SOCIEUX+ are working on both institutional and technical barriers to inclusivity. These experts comprise civil servants from Portugal, France, Cyprus, Greece, Belgium, and Sweden, academics from Finland, France, and Germany, and social partner representatives from Spain.

Coordination of the various actors involved in the disability sector is the theme of the ongoing cooperation activities in Cambodia and Panama. Policies for accessibility and the protection of persons with disabilities are among the largest and most diverse in the social protection domain; they thus require the participation of a variety of administrations (those responsible for social affairs, health, education, and infrastructure, to name just a few), and also buy-in from charitable and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with persons with disabilities. The private sector is also increasingly mobilised to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in professional environments. Such multi-actor mechanisms require the increased capacity and dynamism of public authorities to identify, include, and coordinate these stakeholders.

The next step, which we are working towards with our partner in Mauritius, is sectoral strategic planning. Political goals, aligned to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), are associated with concrete objectives for improving services and accessibility, and the roles and responsibilities of different actors are defined. In this stage, countries go beyond policy and institutional frameworks , and invest in the set-up and improvement of services and benefits for persons with disabilities.

The provision of services should be based on a correct identification of the type, quality, and severity of a person’s disability, which leads to the next step in the process. Recently, in Armenia, we helped to review disability indicators and how they combine to determine the nature and intensity of a person’s disability, and match them to a range of social protection services and benefits. In particular, the Armenian partner wanted to highlight the matter of participation in society for assessing disability

On 3 December, 2021, the world will celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year’s theme is “Not All Disabilities are Visible”. Some disabilities, like mental health disorders, chronic pain, and fatigue, are difficult to see but still present a heavy burden to affected individuals. Hence the importance that social protection policies and schemes become systematically disability-inclusive, mobilising diverse actors and putting to work the variety of social protection schemes available to them. From this perspective, SOCIEUX+ is well positioned to provide support, as its cooperation mechanism employs the large and diverse variety of European public expertise available in the fields of social protection, labour and employment

Gian Luca Portacolone
SOCIEUX+ Social Protection Coordinator