After Poverty Reduction. The new international thinking on social protectionFrancine Mestrum, PhDProfessor at the University of Ghent, lecturer Université Libre de BruxellesFor T.H. Marshall the twentieth century was the century of social rights. Afterthe emergence of civil rights in the 18th century and the more or lessgeneralisation of political rights in the nineteenth century, the consciousnesswas slowly growing that equal rights were not really helpful if economicinequality led to unbridgeable differences and the impossibility to exercise theserights. Marshall’s theory was strongly criticized, amongst others by feministswho noted that women got social rights before they got political rights.Nevertheless, the theory still stands as a basis for the development of welfarestates.At the end of the twentieth century however, a new social paradigm was put intoplace. Everywhere, welfare states were under pressure. After fifteen years of‘structural adjustments’ in most third world countries, imposed by the IMF(International Monetary Fund) and the WB (World Bank), a new policy of ‘povertyreduction’ was being proposed. This clearly was not seen as added-on the existingsocial protection, but rather as a substitute for it. The focus was put onextreme poverty and it rarely was put in relation with the social and economicrights that are enshrined in an international treaty. Even if all UN (UnitedNations) documents refer to the universal and indivisible human rights, neitherthe Millennium Development Goals nor the ‘Poverty Reduction Strategies’ refer tothese rights.These developments lead to four considerations.First of all, according to WB statistics, global extreme poverty is declining. In1981 40,14 % of the population in developing countries lived in extreme poverty.In 2004 it is only 18,09 %. Poverty declined from 66,96 % in 1981 to 47,55 % ofthe population in poor countries in 2004. However, the number of poor people hasrisen from 2452,47 million in 1981 to 2547,94 in 2004. This positive result needsto be handled cautiously, since most numbers are merely estimates. Many poorcountries have no data or no trend data . All statistics are based on acontroversial ‘PPP conversion rate’ . In 2007 the WB stated that it had beenoverestimating the Chinese economy with about 40 % and the Indian economy withabout 25 %. According to the WB, this means China has at least 65 million morepoor people. Others think it may be 200 to 400 million more.In the meantime, global income inequality is rising. These statistics are alsocontroversial and are very often ideologically influenced. Absolute inequalitybetween countries certainly has risen, whereas relative inequality seems todecline . The weighted inequality between countries has been declining the pasttwenty years, though without taking into account China and India, it has also beenrising. Declining poverty, then, is not incompatible with rising inequality.Thirdly, the poverty reduction strategies of the WB and the IMF did not mean thatother macro-economic policies were being introduced. The poverty strategies of theBretton Wood institutions are compatible with the policies they have now beenimposing on poor countries for almost thirty years. A growing consensus admits theimportance of budgetary discipline and the fight against inflation, butprivatizations, deregulations and free trade remain controversial and are stillamong the conditions that poor countries must accept in order to get developmentfinancing. Some of the evaluation reports of the IMF also state that itsdiscourse has changed more than its practice.