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How Are Social Policy Consensuses Achieved?

1 October 2013|News

Factors influencing the emergence of covenants and consensus in social policy are analysed in a new ECLAC study that continues the Commission’s reflections on this topic – as previously developed in various documents.


Escultura de manos estrachandose
Foto: Nicola Corboy/Flickr

Why is a covenant important? And how does consensus come about in terms of social policy? These are two of the questions that ECLAC seeks to answer in a new study on this recurring topic in the work of the United Nations Commission.

The document Building covenants and consensus in social policy: notes for a framework of analysis , which was produced by officials from the Social Development Division, is based on a practical concern and a paradox.

According to the authors Carlos Maldonado and Andrea Palma, "The paradox is that, despite the importance of reaching medium- or long-term consensuses on social policy in order to tackle Latin America's greatest challenges relating to poverty and inequality, democracy in many of the region's countries has not been able to generate these consensuses to the policies to close social and economic gaps".

Many studies have shown the political and institutional shortcomings of Latin American democracies when it comes to translating electoral mandates into stable, coherent and representative public policies, according to the experts. This means that the political feasibility of large social and fiscal covenants is an ongoing challenge for the region.

The practical concern relates to the need to analyse specific cases where consensus was reached on important initiatives, as well as proposing guidelines to assess how feasible it is to expect such a covenant in a specific context.

ECLAC has underscored the importance of countries agreeing on social and fiscal covenants for medium- and long-term implementation and funding of policies and programmes to combat poverty, reduce inequality and guarantee economic, social and cultural rights.

For instance, the document Time for equality: closing gaps, opening trails (2010) defined social covenants as explicit agreements between social and political actors on a general or specific social order. The issue was also forcefully put forward in the document Structural Change for Equality: An Integrated Approach to Development (2012).

The study by Maldonado and Palma, which was carried out as part of a project implemented by ECLAC and German International Cooperation (GIZ), states that times of crisis or political change offer windows of opportunity to make deeper changes to the direction of social policy. The authors state "If the changes are agreed on in a consensual way, this can lend continuity, legitimacy and staying power to such a turning point".

As part of the same research, case studies will soon be published on important social policy reform based on consensus in Chile, Mexico and Uruguay.