Meaning of YEAR IN REVIEW 2001: SOCIAL-PROTECTION in English

Social Protection Benefits and Programs In 2000 many countries were concerned about the long-term stability of the various social protection programs. Public debate, reform proposals, and actual reforms were guided by this concern. The pros and cons of the involvement of private elements in public social protection schemes were discussed, and governments and social security administrators continued their efforts to modernize schemes. New approaches, including new technology, were used to improve welfare delivery and to promote fairness and opportunity. North America. Election-year pressures in 2000 generally dictated social protection activity in the United States. Though a torrent of proposals and much debate occurred, lawmakers postponed passing most new legislation in the partisan-divided Congress. Two of the strongest threads in the social safety net-Social Security and Medicare-were among the top issues of the presidential campaign; candidates pushed ideas that reflected their respective parties' views of public versus private responsibility. Both Medicare and Social Security received good news early in the year when new projections indicated that they were in better financial shape than had been thought. Trustees of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund estimated that Medicare would be solvent until 2023, eight years longer than they reported previously. It was the longest solvency projection for Medicare since 1975. Social Security trustees extended the solvency projection from 2034 to 2037; even if no action was taken, Social Security would be able to pay all promised benefits until 2037 and 72% of promised benefits after that date. Behind the revised projections were the continued strong economy and, in the case of Medicare, government efforts to contain costs and eliminate waste and fraud. Despite the improved outlook, both programs continued to face problems, especially as 76 million baby boomers headed into retirement over the next few decades, with increased life expectancy and soaring health care costs. Social Security, for example, would begin paying out more in benefits than it received from payroll taxes in 2015, and Medicare was expected to reach that tipping point in 2010. The better-than-expected outlook did not halt all efforts in Congress to make changes in the programs. The most significant new legislation was a repeal of the earnings limit for Social Security recipients over age 65. By an overwhelming vote, Congress ended the practice of deferring Social Security benefits for people aged 65 through 69 who continued to work and earned more than a defined threshold of income each year. Aside from this, however, most action took place on the presidential campaign trail. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, proposed a major shift in Social Security from a program of government-guaranteed benefits to one in which private markets and investment risks would be involved. The Bush plan would allow young workers to divert some of their payroll taxes into private savings accounts through which they could invest in stocks and bonds. Democratic nominee Vice Pres. Al Gore supported a less-radical change in which the federal government would match contributions from eligible individuals with tax credits that varied according to a person's income. Gore proposed to use excess payroll tax revenue-an estimated $2.4 trillion over 10 years-to pay down the national debt, arguing that this would bolster the economy and make it easier to meet future Social Security needs. A number of bipartisan groups also recommended moving toward private accounts, but most plans guaranteed a minimum benefit to make sure that recipients did not fall into poverty. Still others suggested dealing with the looming threat to Social Security's solvency by raising the retirement age and/or payroll taxes or by lowering benefits. The retirement age was already slated to rise from 65 to 67 in slow incremental stages. When it came to Medicare, both major party candidates offered plans to deal with a widely recognized shortcoming in the program-the lack of coverage for prescription drugs, which was the fastest-growing form of health care costs in the United States. Almost one-third of Medicare recipients had no drug coverage; the other two-thirds bought private insurance or received drug coverage through Medicaid (the federal-state health care program for the poor) or "medigap" plans that supplemented Medicare. As with Social Security, the Republican plan would involve the private sector, creating a system in which private insurance companies competed with the government to provide coverage for beneficiaries. The elderly could use government subsidies to purchase government-approved private insurance, including drug coverage, or stay in Medicare. The plan proposed by the Democrats earmarked $253 billion over 10 years to add prescription drug benefits to Medicare. Another continuing health care issue was how to help those who had no health insurance. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that after rising for 11 years, the number of people who lacked health insurance fell from 16.3% of the population in 1998 to 15.5% in 1999, primarily as a result of government programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for youngsters whose families could not afford private insurance but made too much money to qualify for Medicaid. That left, however, an estimated 42.6 million Americans, including about 10 million children, without insurance. A report released by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Research Council, warned that health care assistance for the poor provided through sources such as local clinics, public hospitals, and charitable organizations was overburdened and underfunded and could collapse without an infusion of more money and attention. Gore proposed spending $146 billion over 10 years to expand SCHIP. Bush's solution was to use $75 billion over the same period for tax credits to help people buy private insurance. Congress considered some legislation dealing with the uninsured, but most of it did not pass. As welfare reform marked its fourth anniversary, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that the rolls continued to shrink-to 2.4 million families at the end of 1999, compared with 2.7 million at the start of that year; the number had stood at 4.6 million when the overhaul was enacted in 1996. The report revealed that for the third straight year every state had met standards required by law for the proportion of welfare recipients who were working or preparing for a job. Independent studies found that those left on the rolls increasingly were minorities and children who did not live with their parents. With Congress slow to move in the social welfare field, Pres. Bill Clinton took some actions on his own. To combat the tight housing market in big cities, he announced that the federal government would increase the value of subsidies given to low-income renters under the "Section 8" housing program, one of the government's largest housing programs, serving three million households. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that a record 5.4 million low-income renters paid more than half their incomes for rent or lived in "seriously distressed" housing. Clinton also announced help for community and faith-based organizations to expand facilities where teenage mothers could receive support. The government reported that teen birthrates were down in 1999 for the eighth straight year-dropping to 49.6 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, the lowest level in the 60 years the data had been kept. There was other encouraging news about the segment of the population at whom most social programs were aimed. A Census Bureau report in September noted a decline in the percentage of Americans living in poverty. According to the report, 2.2 million households moved above the poverty level (defined as $17,029 for a family of four) in 1999, and the proportion of those living in poverty fell from 12.7% in 1998 to 11.8% in 1999-the lowest point in more than two decades. Seven states and the District of Columbia registered declines in poverty population, while none had a statistically significant rise. A separate study by the National Center for Children in Poverty, a nonpartisan research centre at Columbia University, New York City, found that the child poverty rate fell significantly in a few states. It also revealed, however, that in most states and in the country as a whole, child poverty was higher in 1998-the last year for which figures were available-than in 1979. In Canada too the main concern was the country's strained health care system. After nearly a year of wrangling about financing and reforming health care, federal and provincial ministers agreed on a plan in September. Under the compromise, the federal government would restore more than Can$5 billion (Can$1.48=$1) a year in contributions to health and social programs by 2005, bringing its transfers to $21 billion annually. In addition, Ottawa would provide Can$1 billion for medical equipment and Can$800 million for health care reform. Federal transfer payments to the provinces had been cut in 1995 in an effort to eliminate the deficit, and this caused the Canada Health and Social Transfer block fund to fall to Can$11 billion in 1996. The debate over what to do included a push by Health Minister Allan Rock for a new home-care program that would relieve hospitals. In the end, the ministers settled for a plan that gave provinces more money to keep the existing system going and did not change federal and state jurisdictions. For their part, provinces gave up demands for automatic yearly increases tied to economic factors. In another area Canada's employment insurance rules were altered to extend parental leave from 10 to 35 weeks. The benefits were available to either the mother or the father. Human Rights Major issues receiving attention during 2000 were criminal accountability, gender-based abuses, self-determination of minority groups, and economic and social rights in the context of growing demands for changes in the loan and trade policies of international financial institutions in regard to the less-developed world. Particularly notable were two newly emerging approaches and methods for human rights enforcement. First, the criminal proceedings in the United Kingdom and Spain against former Pres. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte of Chile helped to establish the principle that every nation in the world, not just the specially constituted international criminal tribunals, was authorized to take legal action against torturers and other major human rights abusers. Second, mass public demonstrations in the U.S. and Europe protesting the financial practices of the World Bank and other international lending and trade-regulation institutions focused significant worldwide attention, for the first time, on economic and social aspects of human rights. Refugees and International Migration The number of refugees and persons of concern to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) around the world increased slightly, from 21.5 million in 1998 to 22.3 million in 1999. The latter figure represented one out of every 269 people on Earth. Slightly more than half of them were women, and some 41% were children under 18 years old. This figure, however, did not reflect the dramatic and massive humanitarian crises that occurred during 1999. Systematic violations of human rights, failed peace negotiations or implementation of peace accords, internal strife, and, ultimately, war forced large numbers of people to flee their homes. In the case of East Timor (a former Portuguese colony that had been invaded by Indonesia in 1975) and Kosovo (a province of Serbia within Yugoslavia), the rapid exodus was reversed in a matter of months, but those displaced returned only to find their homes destroyed and the infrastructure damaged so severely that it was inadequate to support them. Despite resurgent worldwide conflicts, solutions to refugee situations continued to be found. Repatriation remained the preferred solution in many situations, and more than 1.6 million refugees returned to their homes during 1999. Often, however, they returned to uncertainty or uneasy peace. Resettlement also continued to offer solutions for many refugees, frequently the most vulnerable. In 1999, 45,000 refugees were resettled in third countries. Several South American countries opened up as destination points for a limited number of resettled refugees. Although less frequently an option, local integration provided some refugee groups with limited opportunities to start new lives. In southern Mexico 20,000 Guatemalan refugees were expected to be fully integrated in the country and to become self-sufficient in the course of 2000. Elsewhere, however, solutions remained elusive and resulted in protracted refugee displacement that in some cases spanned decades, such as cases involving refugees from Afghanistan. Although a cease-fire agreement was signed in May 1999, the situation in Sierra Leone remained tense. It was believed that some 2.5 million people (half of the country's population) remained beyond the reach of relief assistance. Security incidents in the area provoked the flight of over 11,000 Sierra Leonean refugees to safer parts in the south of the country. The northern part of neighbouring Liberia continued to be volatile; 8,000 Liberians left their homes for Guinea. Nevertheless, UNHCR assisted in the repatriation of nearly 38,000 Liberian refugees in 1999. Guinea hosted the largest refugee population in the West African region; care and assistance were being provided to more than half a million refugees there. The Central African Republic also received large numbers of refugees, primarily from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the Great Lakes region of Africa, despite the signing in July and August 1999 of the Lusaka cease-fire agreement between the warring parties in the DRC, the situation continued to be tense, and the potential for population movements remained high. Since the resurgence of conflict in the country in 1998, 95,000 Congolese refugees had fled to camps in Tanzania and another 25,000 to camps in Zambia. Despite continuing difficulties in Rwanda, UNHCR supported the return of over 38,000 Rwandans in 1999. At the start of 2000, Tanzania hosted more than 480,000 refugees from Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda. In Burundi security remained precarious, and there were heightened concerns over the possibility of refugee spillover into other countries. Of the more than 300,000 refugees who had crossed into Tanzania, some 50,000 had fled between October 1999 and February 2000. The two-year border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea had rendered thousands of civilians homeless and, in some cases, stateless. The signing of a cease-fire agreement in June 2000 led to the reopening of the border between the two countries and thereby allowed UNHCR to begin the repatriation of some 100,000 Eritrean refugees in The Sudan. UNHCR also continued to facilitate the return of Somali refugees from Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya to areas considered to be safe in northwestern and northeastern Somalia. Some 70,000 refugees returned from Ethiopia and additional groups, mostly from Kenya, returned to northeastern Somalia, including 820 refugees who were airlifted from camps in Kenya. Growing numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) fled intensified fighting as the 26-year war in Angola continued. Almost 20% of the inhabitants were estimated to have fled to safer areas within Angola and to countries in the region over the past several years. By August 2000 the number of IDPs was estimated at over 2.6 million. Tens of thousands of refugees also crossed into Namibia, Zambia, and the DRC. In South America a deterioration of the Colombian conflict during 1999 led not only to massive forced displacement within the country but also to cross-border movements. An influx of some 4,000 Colombians into Venezuela and Panama raised concerns about the potential for future cross-border movements. An estimated 1,100,000 people had been displaced within Colombia, nearly 600,000 of them in the past two years. The continuation of the armed conflict between Sri Lankan authorities and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam led to further population displacements in Sri Lanka's northern provinces. By August 2000 an estimated 700,000 persons had been displaced within the country. Another 70,000 Sri Lankan refugees remained in camps in India; their repatriation hinged on a resolution of the conflict. Elsewhere in Asia, the state of 100,000 Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar (Burma) located in 11 camps along the border between Thailand and Myanmar remained unresolved. Some 98,000 Bhutanese refugees in eastern Nepal awaited a durable solution to their plight as the two governments entered into discussions on the modalities for their return. The saga of the Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong came to an end in February 2000 when authorities there granted the right of abode to the remaining 1,400 Vietnamese refugees and so-called nonnationals who had begun fleeing to countries in Southeast Asia at the end of the 1980s. The eruption of violence in East Timor following the announcement of the results of the August 1999 referendum on independence provoked the displacement of 75% of the population. Some 500,000 persons were displaced inside East Timor and another estimated 200,000 fled to West Timor and other areas of Indonesia. By mid-March 2000 over 150,000 persons had returned to East Timor from Indonesia and elsewhere. Militia groups in West Timor, however, held large numbers of refugees virtual hostage and restricted access to humanitarian agencies and the distribution of aid. Three UNHCR field-workers were brutally slain in the town of Atambua in West Timor in September 2000 by a gang of militia members. UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies withdrew their operations following the killings and left the remaining refugees to an unknown fate. Following the new outbreak of violence within the Russian separatist republic of Chechnya in October 1999, more than 200,000 people fled into neighbouring republics, particularly Ingushetia; thousands of others escaped into Georgia and farther afield to Kazakhstan. Though several thousand Chechens returned home to parts of Chechnya under Russian control, many left again owing to continuing insecurity, the destruction of their homes, and the poor state of the general infrastructure. As of March 2000 UNHCR was providing assistance to approximately 180,000 displaced persons in Ingushetia, consisting mainly of women and children. The majority were expected to return home in the near future. In the Balkan region a dramatic turnaround occurred following the return of ethnic Albanians to Kosovo in July 1999. Ethnic Serbs and other minorities in the province found themselves targets of attacks and persecution, and many were forced to flee. Between July 1999 and July 2000, 210,000 Serbs, Roma (Gypsies), and other ethnic non-Albanians fled in advance of the returning Albanians or were later forced to leave Kosovo. In Croatia some 10,000 Croatian Serbs (including IDPs as well as refugees) returned to their homes during the first half of 2000, almost as many as during all of 1999. Refugee returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina were also accelerated; 20,000 refugees returned to their prewar homes during the first six months of 2000. More than a decade after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, millions of Afghan refugees continued to find refuge in camps and villages in Pakistan and Iran. In 1999 some 100,000 Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran were assisted by UNHCR. Repatriation continued throughout 2000 but was tempered by fresh displacements of people as a result of war and drought. According to respective government figures, 1.3 million refugees remained in Pakistan and more than 1.2 million remained in Iran. Afghans were the largest refugee group in the world. UNHCR

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