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International Monetary Fund. Independent Evaluation Office

Abstract

1. Social protection has become a central concern in the global policy discourse. The global crisis in 2008 triggered job losses and financial turmoil, prompting the Group of Twenty (G-20) to call for actions to “mitigate the social impact,” particularly on the poorest and most vulnerable (G-20, 2009). Attention to social protection has also been raised by recurrent commodity price shocks; by concerns about rising inequality and the implications of increasing trade openness and new technologies for displaced workers and their families; by long-running demographic trends such as aging populations; and by regional social and political stresses such as the “Arab Spring” that brought attention to the need for “inclusive growth.” In 2011, G-20 member countries recognized the importance of “social protection floors”—i.e., nationally-defined guarantees ensuring that all in need have access to essential healthcare and basic income security—and urged international organizations to enhance cooperation on the social impact of economic policies (G-20, 2011). In 2015, world leaders adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pledging to achieve, by 2030, “nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all,” among other things (UN, 2015).

International Monetary Fund. Independent Evaluation Office

Abstract

13. Historically, the IMF’s involvement in social issues was quite limited. The Articles of Agreement call for the institution to respect members’ domestic social and political policies in its surveillance activities.7 The Board took this caveat seriously, as evidenced in its discussions on the issue and reflected in formal guidance to staff. Social issues were not part of the IMF’s core areas of responsibility, as laid out in the operational guidelines for surveillance (see IMF, 1991). Staff were not proscribed from addressing such issues but were expected to exercise their judgment as to whether the issue was relevant for macroeconomic conditions and prospects, and to rely, as far as possible, on the expertise of other institutions such as the World Bank. On occasion, particularly since the 1990s, the Managing Director directly instructed staff to pay more attention to concern for the poor and set the tone for greater involvement in social issues by the institution, but this was not built into operational guidelines.8

International Monetary Fund. Independent Evaluation Office

Abstract

32. The IMF addressed an extensive range of social protection issues in Article IV consultations with a number of countries during the evaluation period. To measure coverage, this evaluation examined Board assessments in Article IV Summings Up for advice related to social protection.42 Based on Summings Up examined for all Article IV consultations concluded in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2015, this evaluation identified seven themes of IMF advice that were closely related to social protection;43 (i) reforming the pension/social security system; (ii) reforming unemployment benefits/minimum wage schemes; (iii) improving the targeting of social benefits/transfers; (iv) protecting vulnerable groups or limiting the social cost of reforms/policies/shocks; (v) protecting or creating fiscal space, i.e., increasing budgetary allocations, for social spending; (vi) strengthening the social safety net/social transfers/provision of social services; and (vii) pursuing active labor market policies. Examples of each theme are provided in Annex 2. Many Summings Up contained advice on more than one theme.44