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Breaking down the silo: connecting education to world trends

23 July 2015
by Guest author
Now connect to world trends

Now connect to world trends

Tracey Burns, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Did you ever wonder if education has a role to play in stemming the obesity epidemic sweeping across all OECD countries? Or what the impact of increasing urbanisation might be on our schools, families, and communities? Or whether new technologies really are fundamentally changing the way our children think and learn? If so, you’re not alone.

The OECD’s work on Trends Shaping Education stimulates reflection on the challenges facing education by providing an overview of key economic, social, demographic and technological trends. It has been used by ministries to guide strategic thinking and in Parliaments as a strategic foresight tool. It’s also part of the curriculum in teacher education colleges, and is a resource for teachers when designing courses and lectures, as well as parents and students themselves.

The fourth edition of the book will be launched in January 2016. Two weeks ago, the Trends team travelled to Brussels to hold an expert workshop with researchers in a number of domains, including demography, governance, urban design, new technologies, climate change, financial literacy, small and medium enterprises, children and families, and banking.

Why take the time to meet face-to-face with these experts? To be honest we weren’t sure that it would yield any results. Researchers have many demands on their time, and it is not often that they are given a chance to look beyond their own particular speciality to think more holistically about global trends. Sometimes, though, it is by bringing people together unexpectedly that the best ideas emerge.

Will robots replace our teaching force in 10 years? In 20 years? Will new fertility technologies allow for designer babies (and, in parallel, “rejects” that did not turn out as expected)? Will online relationships rival or replace our friendship groups? What might this mean for families, and schools? These ideas might seem radical, but the trends behind them are supported by science. And while they are still speculative, there are a number of trends that could have an impact on education, if not today, then tomorrow or the next day. And yet most of our education systems still do not address them.

For example, climate change trends make it clear that across OECD countries we can expect to experience more and more extreme weather events. In most of our countries, the effects will be felt most acutely in cities, where the density of the population and ageing infrastructure (roads and services, such as water, electricity and plumbing) makes us especially vulnerable. If you combine this with worries about the emergence of new epidemics (MERS in Korea is just the latest example) and our ageing populations, a cautious city planner has reason for concern. And not just hypothetical reasons, either. Recent flooding in New York and other major cities has revealed the weakness of many of our emergency-response services.

So what does this have to do with education? Good question. In the short term, communities need to have a plan to educate their populations on what to do (and not do) in the event of a major storm or other extreme weather event such as drought or fires. In the medium and long term, we need to develop school infrastructure and transport that are designed to provide safe access for our students. Hoping it won’t happen is not a sustainable plan – certainly not for the communities that have already experienced an extreme weather event or those that are forecast to do so in the near future.

This is just one example. Important trends to keep an eye on range from the macro level (increasing globalisation and migration) all the way through national and regional labour markets, urban planning, and our changing demography and family structures. How can education support our ageing populations – currently one of the major demographic preoccupations for most OECD governments – to stay active and healthy well past retirement? Will cities keep growing at increasing speeds, or will we continue to see the decline of mid-size cities, such as Detroit (USA) and Busan (Korea)? What about new technologies in the classroom, will they change the way we teach and learn? Perhaps even our concept of what a classroom is?

In September, we plan to hold a second workshop in order to discuss how the trends we have identified might interact with education in the short and medium term. Stay tuned to find out how that goes, and to get a sneak peek between the covers of the next Trends Shaping Education volume, due out in January next year.

Useful links

OECD work on innovation in education



The most successful anti-poverty movement in history?

22 July 2015
by Guest author

DCR 2013Peter Gregory, Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne

It is erroneous for the UN to claim that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history”. The extraordinary reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty over the last 25 years has been caused by market-led economic growth. We must re-cast foreign aid and charity to reflect this reality.

Between 1990 and 2015 the number of people living in poverty fell from 1.9 billion to 836 million. This drastic improvement is something we should all be ecstatic about. But the UN is incorrect in judging the MDGs as contributing significantly to this extraordinary achievement in its final report into the 15-year goals released a fortnight ago.

According to The Economist, in the first decade of this century, developing countries increased their GDP by 6% per year on average – 1.5 points more than between 1960 and 1990. Since 2000 annual growth in household consumption in developing countries grew by 4.3% per year on average – it grew by only 0.9% annually in the preceding decade.

These gains largely occurred because of market liberalisation which boosted trade between and within countries. In their Economic Freedom of the World report for 2014 the Cato Institute in the US found that global economic freedom has increased significantly since 1980 based on security of property rights, freedom to trade internationally, the rule of law, regulation and other factors. They also found almost without exception, that countries that were more economically free were more prosperous.

An obvious example is China. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s China instituted free market reforms such as opening itself up to trade with the outside world, removing the barriers to private enterprise and allowing agricultural markets to emerge.

These reforms meant that 680 million people have been lifted out of poverty since 1980. Indeed, China accounts for three quarters of the people moving out of poverty over the last three decades. It’s worth noting China has never shown any interest in the MDGs.

But China is not the only one. Growth in other developing countries has lifted 280 million people out of poverty since 2000 according to former World Bank economist Martin Ravallion.

There is a lesson in this for foreign aid and charity. If free markets are lifting so many hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, foreign aid must re-cast its role as enabling poor people to participate in markets.

One way to do this is by enhancing individuals’ economic rights. A prime example are property rights. Hernando de Soto estimates that $US 10 trillion of assets owned by poor people aren’t protected by formal property rights therefore restricting grassroots entrepreneurship. Ensuring that women have the same property and inheritance rights as men would drive economic empowerment and equality for women.

Another crucial economic right is the right to engage in free trade. Bjorn Lomborg estimates that removing the despicable trade barriers that prevent developing nation producers from selling their wares in developed and developing markets would make each person in the developing world on average $US 1000 richer per year by 2030 and lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty.

Furthermore, enhancing economic rights by fighting endemic corruption that cripples entrepreneurship is extremely impactful. As is ending the obtrusive industry policies that are rife in the developing world and crowd out entrepreneurship such as the Pakistani government’s price-setting practices in the country’s wheat sector.

The other way foreign aid can help poor people take part in transformative free markets in a sustainable way is to identify and facilitate the development of markets that are beneficial for the most deprived. For example, the Human Capital Project in Cambodia utilises a unique financing mechanism called personal equity finance which enables impoverished students to pay for university without the risk of a standard bank loan.

Proponents of this type of free market poverty alleviation scheme is what development economist William Easterly calls ‘searchers’ – people who develop market-based local solutions for local problems.

That’s not to say there is no room in global foreign aid for targeted government social programs. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia and Mexico’s Oportunidades are successful conditional cash-transfer schemes that have put a dent in poverty. Furthermore, foreign aid is also helpful during natural disasters.

But the UN must realise that the most successful anti-poverty movement in history is called ‘the free market’ and it’s something that thankfully, most people in the world now participate in every day.

Useful links

People, not governments, will end poverty Peter Gregory

The Missing Foundation of Development: Individual Rights Peter Gregory

OECD Development Co-operation Report 2013: Ending Poverty

Quality of jobs created is vital not just for young people, but for the economy too

20 July 2015
by Guest author

EYFMarianna Georgallis, Policy & Advocacy Coordinator at the European Youth Forum

One month ago, all eyes turned to the Greek drama playing out in Europe. It has been a month of fraught negotiations, a shock referendum and a European Union and its leaders put under the spotlight, with European values of solidarity and unity questioned and, some might say, threatened. The focus has been largely on numbers – on the billions needed to avoid a Grexit, on the daily €60 cash withdrawal limit currently in place. But the ultimate reason for the past weeks of drama has not been figures – it has been people. The Greek government’s actions, right or wrong, are attempting to reverse the trend of years of wage cuts, welfare cuts, growing poverty, inequality and dire levels of unemployment. Undercutting all talk of currencies, of bailouts and banks has been the grave social impact of the economic and financial crisis and Europe’s response to it.

The statistics are there and are by now well known. The OECD Employment Outlook 2015, published earlier this month, highlights what has been mentioned in countless political speeches over the past years: Europe is suffering a social crisis. Unemployment rates give the first indication of this: Whereas unemployment has fallen below 6% in the United States and is under 4% in Japan and Korea, in the euro area the unemployment rate remains above 11%. It is clear that Europe is still lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to employment.

These statistics are higher and more shocking when it comes to young people specifically. The share of young people neither employed nor in education or training, the so-called NEETs, has reached a staggering 40 million across OECD countries – with 27 million of these NEETs totally off the radar – a disappeared mass of young people, registered nowhere.

The enduring effects of this are a serious cause for concern. More than one in three jobseekers in the OECD has been out of work for 12 months or more. Long-term unemployment has serious consequences, ranging from deterioration of skills, lack of confidence which can lead to mental health issues and an impact on the economy through inactivity and costs of welfare provision such as unemployment benefits. However, the new finding of this year’s Employment Outlook is that a person’s long-term career prospects are largely determined in the first ten years of their working life. Long-term spells of unemployment can have an influence well into one’s career in terms of earnings – meaning that upward earnings mobility can be reduced having been long-term unemployed as a young person. This in turn raises income inequality and thus impacts economic growth through, amongst others, perpetuating under-investment and lower aggregate output.

However, it’s not just about having a job. The European Youth Forum has been calling for an end to the ‘any-job-will-do’ approach which has persisted since the onset of the crisis, with no real attempt from European policy-makers to address this. The Outlook shows that youth, alongside low-skilled and informal workers, typically hold the poorest quality jobs. The disproportionate increase of young people on temporary contracts over recent years is not a case of voluntary temporary employment – it is clearly a situation of forced, precarious work. Unpaid internships are a clear example of this – you would be hard pushed to find a young person, fresh out of their studies, willing and happy to work for free for 6 months – yet the 5 million interns in Europe, almost half of whom are unpaid, show that this is unfortunately the current reality.

Quality employment is a right, enshrined in several universal legal frameworks. Unfortunately this has been ignored by too many governments and EU leaders; focusing on job quality is perceived as a drag on job creation. The Employment Outlook disproves this, however, showing that the best performing OECD countries in terms of employment rates are also the ones that have the highest level of job quality. This is why the clear message of the Outlook is that governments must take action to foster stronger employment growth, implementing direct measures to improve workers’ access to productive and rewarding quality jobs.

The European Youth Forum views the new Investment Plan for Europe as an opportunity to do this. If the focus is on investment in quality job creation, particularly in emerging sectors with great potential such as the green economy and ICT, there is hope yet that the social crisis, experienced in Greece but also across the board, can begin to be reversed. Governments need to fulfil their duty of ensuring that all young people are able to access their social and economic rights, in order to achieve independence and autonomy, and thus contribute to a healthy economy and an inclusive society in Europe and the world.

Useful links

Employment Outlook editor Paul Swaim writes about this year’s edition here

OECD work on employment

OECD work on youth employment and unemployment

OECD employment database

Green and growing, or ripe and rotting?

16 July 2015
by Guest author

Towards green growthNathalie Girouard, OECD Environment Directorate

In a recent lecture on climate change, the OECD Secretary-General stated that “Tomorrow’s societies engineered around yesterday’s solutions won’t get us there.” The OECD’s work on green growth is just one example of where the Organisation is working towards the development of solutions for today.

The OECD’s 2011 Green Growth Strategy set out a framework for governments to foster economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services necessary for human well-being. To ensure the OECD’s advice on green growth did not become a solution for the past, the Organisation recently prepared the Towards Green Growth? Tracking Progress report. The report takes stock of country experiences and challenges in implementing green growth. It reviews and strengthens the green growth strategy based on the lessons from country efforts, as well as advances in OECD work – including more than 130 green growth publications and over 115 country surveillance reviews containing more than 300 green growth recommendations. Lastly, it assesses the green growth mainstreaming efforts that have been made within the OECD, as these experiences are relevant and instructive for governments and organisations going through the same process. The aim of the report is to accelerate countries’ implementation of green growth policies by providing more targeted and coherent policy advice. In other words, provide relevant solutions that are effective for today’s green growth challenges.

The analysis of country experience shows that countries are making progress, but more work is needed. Thus far, 42 countries have signed on to the OECD’s declaration on green growth. Roughly a third of OECD member countries and a number of OECD partner countries have adapted, or are adopting the Green Growth Strategy’s indicator framework. Examples of green growth policies include China’s 12th 5-year plan on green development, Portugal’s Green Growth Commitment, and Ireland’s framework for sustainable development. Yet to date, no country has comprehensively linked environmental and economic reform priorities. The analysis of the OECD’s green growth recommendations identified that common challenges facing countries relate to the implementation of market instruments to price pollution; orienting tax systems to advance green growth; designing environmentally relevant subsidies; and gearing sectoral policy towards green growth.

This analysis, along with the assessment of OECD’s work on green growth allowed for the development of several key findings and recommendations. First, direct pricing of environmentally harmful activity is indispensable to green growth, but political opposition remains a challenge. To respond to this opposition, more effort is required to tackle the social challenges of reform (e.g., labour market and household impacts). In addition, where constituencies are strongly against tax increases or shifts, governments may need to consider policy mechanisms other than direct pricing.

Misalignments in government policy are also acting as a major hurdle to meaningful reform. Two prominent examples are that governments spend roughly $640 billion per year on environmentally-harmful fossil fuel subsidies and that diesel fuel is taxed at a lower rate than gasoline in 33 out of 34 OECD countries – despite the fact that diesel emits higher levels of harmful local air pollutants and CO2.

The analysis of the mainstreaming process for green growth at the OECD showed that it is proceeding rapidly, but unevenly. Around 70% of OECD country policy surveillance documents contain green growth recommendations. This accomplishment is in part driven by the OECD’s Economic Surveys, where over 80% include green growth recommendations. The elements driving this successful mainstreaming include: high-level leadership and clear accountabilities; formal structures for collaboration; clear articulation of how green growth links to other policy priorities; and dedicated human resources. Nevertheless, more work is needed to better integrate green growth into the OECD’s work on investment and innovation. The forthcoming Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum on Systems Innovation for Green Growth is one mechanism that can be used to advance work in this important area.

To ensure that the OECD’s green growth strategy remains relevant, the report also outlines a series of improvements. These are intended to modernise the strategy and outline work priorities for governments, the OECD and others. These include enhancing the understanding of complementarities and trade-offs between economic and environmental goals; enhancing public trust in green growth by addressing the social impacts of reform; and ensuring that policies are coherent and aligned within and across sectors. Further developing and considering the ocean economy and mining in gearing sectoral policies for green growth. Lastly, using green growth indicators to raise awareness, measure progress and identify opportunities and risks as well as factoring in the challenges and opportunities that green growth represents for developing and emerging economies.

2015 needs to be a big year for green growth. The Tracking Progress Report is just one of the many contributions to continue to advance work in this field. While governments and international organisations endeavour to green growth through the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 negotiations, it is important to remember that solutions for today can also come from individuals. As George Eliot said, “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”

Useful links

To explore the findings of the report, a publication launch webinar will be hosted by the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) on 27 July, featuring Carlo Carraro (Co-Chair of the GGKP Advisory Committee), the OECD’s Chief Economist Catherine L. Mann and Kevin Urama (Managing Director, Quantum Global Research Lab) as the lead discussants.

Key recommendations in English, French and Spanish









Green Growth and Sustainable Development: Key OECD documents

Regional investment: Time to cooperate

16 July 2015
by Guest author

FfD_Logo-140Carole Biau, Investment Division, OECD Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs

One of Aesop’s fables tells of an old man on the point of death, who summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He gave the eldest son a bundle of sticks and asked him to break it. The son was unable to, and his two brothers did no better. The old man then took the bundle apart and gave each of them a stick, which was easily broken.

The moral of this tale – that there is strength in unity – is very straightforward and more or less universal. Similarly, a Kenyan proverb holds that “sticks in a bundle are unbreakable”. However we often seem to lose sight of this basic truth – not only as individuals but also as countries.

Regional economic co-operation has been on the international development agenda for decades. But it requires strong coordination, including in the field of investment policy, and that does not come automatically. On the contrary, countries have often used “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies and seen geographic proximity as a threat rather than an opportunity for investment attraction. Governments have for instance competed to offer investors overly generous tax breaks and incentives, depriving each host country of much needed tax revenues. We have seen similar “races to the bottom” in terms of labour or environmental standards.

Regional collaboration on investment policies can also open up economies of scale. Infrastructure investment in Africa is a case in point: many countries are land-locked and cannot reach ports without cross-border road and rail connections; others are too small to develop cost-effective power or ICT networks; and some potential infrastructure resources (such as lakes and dams) cut across borders and cannot be developed by countries in isolation. In all of these cases, aligning policy frameworks – so that investors face the same ‘rules of the game’ across neighbouring countries – can make a big difference for unlocking investment in cross-border infrastructure projects.

Clearly, whether it is to overcome co-ordination failures or to tap economies of scale in investment policy, regional collaboration – or “bundling of sticks” – is needed. This can help countries move away from a zero-sum game and towards win-win situations.

What are countries doing to strengthen regional co-operation? To take one example: since 2012 the 15 Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have partnered with the OECD to design the SADC Investment Policy Framework. This framework will be discussed and finalised when SADC Member States come together in Johannesburg on 21-22 July 2015. The framework will help SADC countries to collectively enhance their investment policies, so as to attract investment that can work for the development of the region as a whole. It provides concrete options for: improving coherence and transparency of the investment environment; enhancing market access and healthy competition; reinforcing protection of investors’ rights; and, promoting responsible and inclusive investment.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) provides another example of a win-win regional collaboration on investment policy. The ASEAN-OECD Investment Programme allows for experience sharing on investment policy design, implementation and harmonisation across ASEAN Member States. It offers a platform for individual economies to disseminate the results of Investment Policy Reviews undertaken by governments in partnership with the OECD, while benchmarking investment policies and to contributing to identifying good practices. Aesop would be happy with this strengthening of the SADC and ASEAN “bundling of sticks”.

In both regions, these efforts build on the OECD’s main tool to promote investment policy reform and co-ordination: the Policy Framework for Investment (PFI). After having been used by over 25 developing and emerging countries undertaking OECD Investment Policy Reviews since 2006, the PFI has just been updated to ensure its continuing role as a global reference for investment policy reforms and development co-operation. 2015 therefore marks an exciting juncture: the OECD, regional groupings such as SADC and ASEAN, and individual countries, are all embarking on joint work towards implementation of the updated PFI.

Other international organisations, bilateral and multilateral development partners, and the business community, will not be left on the sidelines. In fact when the updated PFI was endorsed in June 2015, they encouraged countries and donors to use the tool as a reference for development co-operation, and particularly as a path towards the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the resources needed every year to achieve the SDGs are at least ten times greater than the current levels of aid (ODA), it goes without saying that mobilising private investment flows through instruments such as the PFI will be crucial.

Exactly how different countries and regions can make the most use of the PFI is being discussed this week in Addis Ababa, at the third international conference on Financing for Development. This is a valuable opportunity not only for individual countries to take part, but also for regional groupings such as SADC and ASEAN to share their efforts towards making their bundle of sticks unbreakable and investment for development a “positive sum game”.

Useful links

The Policy Framework for Investment

Southern African Development Community (SADC) Investment Policy Framework

ASEAN-OECD Investment Programme

OECD work on international investment


World Youth Skills Day

15 July 2015
by Guest author

worldyouthskillsdayGlenda Quintini and Stéphane Carcillo, OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate

Agnès attended a French High School but left at 16 with poor qualifications. She had not enjoyed school and was pleased to leave but now she would be pleased to go back as work has not been as pleasant or easy as she had expected. She found a job at a local burger company but hated it and felt that she had been very badly treated. She then got into restaurant work with some basic training which was much better but had then been laid off because they were cutting back on staff. She is living with her boyfriend who is also unemployed.

One of today’s top policy priorities around the world is to help people like Agnès and reduce extremely high youth unemployment while easing young people’s access to good quality jobs. As the first edition of “Youth Skills day” unfolds, about 40 million youth aged 15-29 in OECD countries are either looking for work or entirely disconnected from the labour market and from education and training. For the young people affected, this is a major setback that could have long lasting negative implications. For countries, not only does this represent human capital that is not being productively used but it also constitutes a financial cost as marginalisation from the labour market at such a young age is likely to bring about benefit dependency for life.

The so-called NEET rate (the share of youth neither in employment nor in education or training) currently stands at 14% in the OECD on average, up from 12.5% before the Great Recession. But in some countries, the problem is much bigger and has been exacerbated by the crisis. For example, the NEET rate rose by about 10 percentage points to exceed 20% in Greece, Italy and Spain.

NEET rates

The lack of skills is a major factor behind being NEET, along with a number of other barriers to employment – poor health, substance abuse, housing – that put NEETs at high risk of social and economic marginalisation. In Spain and England and Northern Ireland, 40% of NEET youth score at level 1 or below in literacy in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) – the lowest level of proficiency. And about a third do so in Canada and Norway. In addition, many have dropped out of general education – 40% of NEETs on average only have lower secondary qualifications – and have no recognised qualification to show for in the labour market.

NEET composition

To bring down this alarmingly high rate, the OECD Action Plan for Youth proposes a set of policies to tackle the current youth unemployment crisis and strengthen the long-term employment prospects of youth. It encourages countries to act fast to strengthen and expand cost-effective active measures such as short-term training, job search counselling or hiring subsidies – all crucial to prevent unemployed youth from disconnecting from job search, particularly in times of poor job creation. It also suggests acting now in areas that may take a while to bear fruit. For instance, prevention is better than cure and the accent is put on ensuring that the education system provides youth with the skills needed for the labour market.

A major challenge is how to deal with those young people who are not even looking for work. These youth typically fall through the cracks of safety nets. Reaching out to them and (re)motivating them in participating in education, training or any form of active programmes is challenging and requires frequent contacts as well as a good cooperation and information sharing between social and employment services.

Some programmes have been successful in helping NEETs get back into learning or employment – such as YouthBuild or JobCorps in the United States. They tend to have a significant hands-on learning component and often partner with employers to provide in-work learning modules. However, all this tends to be rather costly – often in excess of $10,000 per participant. Acting early, to prevent disengagement in the first place is therefore crucial. Apprenticeships and VET programmes, if available to all youth in education, can help prevent dropping out without qualifications in the first place, reducing the likelihood of becoming NEET.

Effective action to reduce NEET rates requires coordinated measures across all relevant ministerial portfolios and at the national and local level to ensure that youth acquire the right skills, bring those skills to the labour market and are able to utilise them effectively.

The OECD Action Plan for Youth is intended to build on and support existing national and local initiatives as well as the ILO Resolution on “The youth employment crisis: a call for action”, the G20 commitments on youth employment and the EU Council’s agreement on the Youth Guarantee.

Useful links

OECD work on youth employment and unemployment

Stéphane Carcillo et al.  (2015), NEET Youth in the Aftermath of the Crisis : Challenges and Policies, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 164

The OECD Action Plan for Youth

Down and Out in Paris and London and elsewhere

14 July 2015
by Guest author

Vulnerable groupsMonika Queisser, Social Policy Division, OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate

In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell recalls his experiences in the 1920s living on the margins of society in the two European capitals. Orwell joined the “tramps”, as they were called, the army of people, mostly male, without stable housing, moving around between cheap hotels, shelters and often prison, occasionally finding casual jobs, pawning their few belongings to buy food, and living with the constant threat of hunger, illness and violence. Orwell was struck by how people were caught in a vicious and futile circle of homelessness, inability to work and poverty:

“There must be at the least several tens of thousands of tramps in England. Each day they expend innumerable foot-pounds of energy (…) in mere useless walking. Each day they waste between them possibly ten years of time staring at cell walls. They cost the country at least a pound a week a man, and give nothing in return for it. They go round and round, on an endless game of post, which is of no use, and not even meant to be of any use to any person whatever. The law keeps this process going, and we have got so accustomed to it that we are not even surprised.”

Almost a century later, there are almost 30 000 homeless people in Paris, 4000 of them sleeping rough, i.e. living in the streets, according to the national statistical office INSEE. In London, government data show that the number of people sleeping on the streets has risen by over one-third in the past year. Not only Paris and London are facing this problem. In Seoul, Korea the homeless population increased by 67% in two years; the number of children in homeless shelters in New York grew by 24% from 2011 to 2012.

While most of us associate homeless people with the image of solitary rough sleepers, homelessness is a much bigger issue. It includes people who use emergency homelessness services, people who live in inadequate housing, those who temporarily camp on the couch of friends, and people who live in severely overcrowded dwellings. In most OECD countries, homelessness affects between one and eight people in every 1 000 each year. Depending on the definitions, which vary widely across countries, as many as one-third of the homeless population can be sleeping rough.

Who are the homeless and how do they end up in this situation? Often, they are persons with complex needs and conditions, such as mental and physical illness or substance abuse problems. But losing one’s job, being evicted from affordable housing, and the breakdown of a relationship can also lead to homelessness. Lone parents and single women can become homeless due to domestic violence, and young people transitioning from social care often have nowhere to live. The same is true for migrants who are also at high risk of living without a stable home.

Many of the chronically homeless end up shuttling back and forth between the streets and hospitals, racking up very high health care costs. The most famous case is that of Angelo Solis in California, also called the Million Dollar Patient. Mr Solis, a homeless alcoholic with diabetes and heart disease, passed out and got picked up regularly by the police, was brought to the nearest emergency room, treated and then released back into the street, only to repeat the same cycle over and over again.

The cost to public services of caring for the chronically homeless can be up to seven times higher than average per capita social spending, and three times higher than care services that are provided in the home for the same individual. Preventing homelessness can be very cost-effective; estimates suggest that treating a homeless person with complex mental health needs is 18 times more expensive than providing preventative at-home service support.

All governments are committed to providing protection against hardship, including homelessness. But how effective and efficient are their efforts? As Orwell observes, what is needed for the homeless is “to depauperise him, and this can only be done by finding him work – not work for the sake of working but work of which he can enjoy the benefit.” But how realistic is it to expect that a person without a stable home and address will ever find and keep a job?

A new report from the OECD on Integrating Social Services for Vulnerable Groups examines the needs of the homeless and other vulnerable groups and the best policies to address these needs. It finds that strategies to house the homeless first, and then provide integrated employment, health and social care support are relatively effective in helping people exit from chronic homelessness. A major obstacle to effective support for the most vulnerable is the lack of integration and coordination of the various social services. Integrating housing support, employment services, and health care and making them easy to access will reduce the likelihood of duplicating services and spending. Integration, with one interlocutor who will assist in putting together the best package of services can generate economies of scale and help ensure that the people with the highest needs receive the services they need at the right time and in the right order.

Every society has vulnerable people; people who need support of different kinds to address personal challenges like extreme poverty, poor physical or mental health and addictions, low education and skills, and precarious work arrangements. Homelessness and instable housing conditions often lead to social exclusion, health problems, poor educational outcomes and long-term unemployment and inactivity. Every vulnerable person represents a social challenge, a moral responsibility, and a life that can be better lived. The way governments make social policy and deliver services needs to live up to this challenge.

Useful links

OECD Social Expenditure Database

Financing for development? Show me the money!

10 July 2015
Click to see the draft Addis Ababa Action Agenda

Click to see the draft Addis Ababa Action Agenda

Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20

In 2009, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo published her book, “Dead Aid”which shocked much of the international development community by claiming that ‘traditional’ systems of official development assistance (ODA) to Africa were not delivering, and arguing why we must find alternatives.

These conclusions triggered many stark reactions. That aid may have fallen short of its targets, and in some cases even run counter to them, is certainly a valid point; but to conclude that all forms of aid are therefore “dead”, and of no future use to developing countries, is quite a stretch. First, ODA spending is still alive and well: the OECD estimates that development aid flows hit an all-time high in 2013, at a record $135.1 billion; and while it has remained stable in 2014, overall ODA has increased by 66% in real terms since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed to. To the credit of donor countries, these trends occurred when the world economy was being hit by the worst international financial crisis of our time. They were also the source of deep reflections on how to focus on development outcomes and impact, instead of only looking at the level of aid.

In this sense, the mainstream development co-operation debate is putting a lot of effort and innovation into how to use ODA flows more effectively – moving beyond traditional forms of aid and using it in more creative ways, through a wider range of partners and financing mechanisms, and performing more of a catalytic role. Indeed, ODA is increasingly being used as a lever to help countries attract other, complementary forms of financing that will be necessary to meet their development objectives. These other forms of financing include tax revenue and foreign as well as domestic investment. In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being negotiated as successors to the MDGs – and to finance these goals, donors and developing countries alike fully agree on the crucial need for ODA to take on this leveraging role.

Indeed, aid alone (whether in its traditional or its more innovative forms) will not suffice for meeting the SDGs. In just one example, the resources needed every year to achieve the SDGs are estimated to be at least ten times greater than current levels of ODA. This leaves a vast space to be filled. First by donor countries delivering on their commitments to increase their support for financing for development. But also by mobilising private flows and investment that rely on ODA to fill the gap. For the first time in 2012, the share of global foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows going to developing countries exceeded that going to developed countries, making FDI by far the biggest source of capital flows to developing countries.

This said, the overall picture is not rosy: after passing $2 trillion in 2007, global FDI flows fell by 40% during the first two years of the global financial crisis. Six years later, in 2013, they were still down by 30%; in Europe investment outflows are down by as much as 80% since the crisis, with implications that stretch far beyond the Eurozone. The legacies of the crisis are still with us in the form of low investment, low growth and high unemployment. And even when we look beyond this immediate economic context, most developing countries continue to have particularly low levels of investment relative to GDP. In most African countries for instance, investment to GDP ratios struggle to reach 20%, well below the levels of most other developing and emerging regions. This relatively poor investment performance mainly results from a lack of adequate framework conditions through which countries can successfully attract and retain investment.

Developing countries therefore have a challenging task ahead if they hope to stimulate investment flows and make them work for development. To help governments rise to this task and enhance the necessary framework conditions, in June 2015 OECD Ministers plus partner countries that include developing and emerging economies, endorsed a comprehensive policy tool: the Policy Framework for Investment (PFI). Updated by a global taskforce in 2015 led by Myamar and Finland and composed by over 70 countries, the PFI is precisely aimed at addressing the structural conditions for investment in a coherent manner. This includes guidance for attracting investment in specific economic sectors, such as infrastructure, where ODA and private finance can work hand-in-hand particularly well. Based on the PFI, since 2006 the OECD Investment Policy Review process has been used by over 25 developing and emerging economies to assess and reform their investment environment so as to enhance private finance for development.

When they endorsed the updated PFI, Ministers encouraged countries to use the tool as a reference for development co-operation, and particularly as a path towards the SDGs. Exactly how different countries and regions can make the most use of the PFI, so as to attract investment that can complement ODA and tax in financing the SDGs, will be the topic of discussions at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development being held in Addis-Ababa next week. This could be a good opportunity for developing country governments as well as donors to move beyond traditional aid together, and towards more innovative and complementary forms of ODA and investment.

Useful links

OSAA-OECD high-level event on leveraging pension funds for financing infrastructure development in Africa

OECD project on institutional investors and long term investment


Dear Coal: it’s not you, it’s me…

10 July 2015
by Guest author
End of the line?

End of the line?

Ariana Mozafari, OECD Environment Directorate

The OECD is calling it quits with an era of coal.

On 3 July, Secretary-General Angel Gurría gave a lecture at the London School of Economics entitled, “Climate: what’s changed, what hasn’t, and what we can do about it – six months to COP21”. He discussed the usual mitigation tactics that royal family members and celebrities are jumping onto: rewiring the economy, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, financing investments in green infrastructure, and aligning contradictory policies to complement the climate effort.

He also, however, discussed one issue in unprecedentedly stark terms for an international body: Gurría said governments need to be seriously skeptical about new coal, which is a primary energy source that many OECD members rely upon.

The Secretary-General pointed his finger at unabated coal power generation as one of the biggest challenges to reducing global emissions to stay within a 2°C target, the agreed climate change threshold to avoid potentially dangerous consequences. Gurría said that coal was usually the least heavily taxed of all fossil fuels, and yet, looking at the way we’re going through coal right now, will result in more than 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere between now and 2050. That’s around half of the remaining carbon budget to stay within our 2°C target.

“The IEA expects global demand for coal to continue to grow in the near term, which would result in a disastrous 4°C plus trajectory,” said an impassioned Gurría. “We cannot continue building coal-fired plants simply because we have been doing so for the last 150 years.”

Coal is also an attractive energy source for developing countries that perhaps don’t have natural gas reserves waiting to be harvested or the financial and technical means to develop renewable sources of energy. But Gurría argued that coal is not cheap if you count all the costs it causes such as land disturbance, contamination of water sources, air pollution, damage to ecosystems and impacts on the health and life expectancy of miners. In the case of developing countries, Gurria called on the support of richer nations: “If the only thing separating coal from cleaner alternatives is a purely financial gap then we need to mobilise climate finance to bridge it.”

Media outlets buzzed over Gurría’s strong words on coal. Alex Kirby from Climate News Network said that Gurría was an “unlikely source” to make a case against coal, as he is the head of an organisation “representing wealthy nations that relied on coal for 32 per cent of electricity generation last year.”

Other media outlets praised the head of the OECD for going beyond the role of a “club” for the world’s richest countries to making firm recommendations against this particular energy source.

However, some are criticizing the OECD’s failure to crack down on all fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. “What about gas?” asked Tristan Edis from Climate Spectator. Fiona Harvey from The Guardian also cited the U.S.’s recent boom in shale gas as the reason coal is more tempting than ever with its lower prices.

This strong stance on coal is complementary to the huge media attention climate change has been attracting recently, due to support from high-profile figures from the entertainment industry, non-profit sector and international organisations. The buzz seems to only keep growing as the UN’s 21st Conference of Parties in Paris (#COP21) nears, where countries are expected to come up with new agreements to reduce emissions and keep our planet’s temperature within the 2°C target.

If there’s one thing that the biggest oil companies in the world and the smallest startup NGO’s seem to agree on, it’s that coal is out. Although it’s not the only fossil fuel that we need to become independent from for a sustainable future, it’s finally looking like humanity is serious about cutting ties with that inconspicuous little black rock that’s causing immense damage to our planet.

Useful links

Fast facts on coal from the IEA:

  • Coal supplied 1520 mtoe of the 3292 mtoe of additional global primary energy supply from 2000 to 2012. That’s 46% of added energy.
  • 200 MW/day of new coal generation capacity was commissioned in the world in 2010-14.

Taxing Energy Use 2015 Just published by the OECD

OECD work on climate change

The OECD’s Employment Outlook argues that time is running out to help workers move up the jobs ladder

9 July 2015
by Guest author

Employment Outlook 2015Paul Swaim, Senior Economist in the OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate and Editor of the OECD Employment Outlook

The recovery is underway, but millions of workers risk being trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder. While unemployment is on a downward trajectory in most countries, about one-half of the crisis-related increase in joblessness in the OECD area still persists more than seven years after the crisis began. Around 42 million persons were without work in May 2015 across the OECD, 10 million more than just before the crisis. Long-term unemployment is a particular concern. The number of persons who have been unemployed for a year or longer is 77% higher than then it was just before the crisis struck in 2007. Young people in the OECD are twice as likely to be unemployed as prime-age workers. More than 40 million 15-29 year-olds (or 1 in 6 youth) across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training, the so-called NEETs. More than half of all NEETs –27 million young people – have dropped off the radar completely. They have literally disappeared from their country’s education, social, and labour market systems. Whatever their age, the long-term jobless can become demoralised and are sometimes stigmatised by potential employers, so there is a real risk that some members of this group will become permanently disengaged from the labour market.

Not only is the labour market recovery still far from complete, but the OECD Employment Outlook 2015, released today, argues that time is running out to prevent millions of workers from being left trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder. Many of the youth who finished their schooling during the crisis years and have struggled to gain a secure toe-hold in the labour market may be approaching the “make or break” point so far as being able to ascend the career ladder. Indeed, one of the striking findings in this edition of the OECD Employment Outlook is that long-term career prospects are largely determined in the first ten years of working life. Some of the experienced workers who have lost their jobs during the crisis are also having a difficult time putting their careers back on track. For example, a number of those who lost jobs in the manufacturing or construction sectors will need to make a career switch to growing service industries and often to adapt their skills if they are to avoid becoming trapped on the margins of the labour market.

The scarring effects of the crisis on the hardest hit groups are compounded by longer-run trends that are making it more difficult for low-skilled workers to move out of precarious, low-paid jobs into jobs that offer opportunities for career advancement. If the missing rungs are not put back into the jobs ladder, the legacy of the crisis is likely to include a further permanent increase in economic inequality above the already record high levels that had been reached before the crisis in many OECD countries. Governments need to take action now if they are to avoid a permanent increase in the number of workers stuck in chronic unemployment or cycling between unemployment and low-paid jobs.

Polices to support upward mobility in the labour market are a priority

The Employment Outlook underlies the high social costs resulting from earnings inequality by showing that a substantial portion of the persons who are unemployed or in low-paid jobs at one point in time are at a high risk of becoming trapped at the bottom of the earnings ladder. Policy makers should thus place a high priority on assuring that the crisis does not leave additional workers permanently excluded from work or trapped in low-paying and insecure jobs, thereby ratcheting inequality up another notch.

Concerns about a possible increase in inequality are heightened by the fact that most OECD economies had already become significantly more unequal in the distribution of income during the decades preceding the crisis, reflecting a large rise in earnings inequality. It follows that the challenge to promote upward mobility at the bottom of the jobs ladder is much more than a cyclical issue related to the global crisis. It is also a key to helping all workers to participate successfully in a rapidly evolving economy. Technological change and the digital revolution in particular have been important drivers of this trend by skewing job demands towards high-level skills and putting downward pressure on the pay of less skilled workers. These structural changes in the economy are part of a continuous process of adaptation to new technologies and processes, as well as globalisation. In this context, workers must have the opportunity to build the skills needed by employers, but also to adapt them to changes in labour demand and to use their skills fully on the job. This is of crucial importance to ensure human capital plays its expected role in boosting innovation and productivity, but also to make growth inclusive.

Governments need to begin restoring the missing rungs back in the jobs ladder and help workers to climb them

The Employment Outlook analyses in detail three types of policy measures that are particularly important for improving the labour market prospects of the workers who are currently stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder. First, effective activation measures are needed that connect jobseekers with suitable jobs. Second, skill deficits in the workforce must be addressed since one of the strongest predictors of poor career outcomes is a low level of skills. Finally, direct measures to raise job quality have an essential role to play, especially in shoring up the earnings of low-paid workers. The importance of these types of measures has long been apparent, but their importance has been magnified by the crisis and by the increase prevalence of temporary and other atypical jobs in a number of countries. Career advancement opportunities are often limited for workers in these types of jobs.

Turning the recovery into an opportunity to promote inclusive growth

Going forward, the most general lesson for labour market policy makers is that more attention should be paid not only to the number of job opportunities available, but also to the quality of these jobs and who requires targeted assistance to access them. In order to promote full recovery from the crisis and help workers to thrive in an ever-changing economy, governments must take action to foster stronger employment growth and improve workers’ access to productive and rewarding jobs. Doing so will help to repair the broken rungs of the jobs ladder and reverse the long-run increase in inequality. It will also strengthen the sustainability of economic growth, another key requirement for promoting inclusive growth.

Useful links

OECD work on employment

OECD work on youth employment and unemployment

OECD employment database

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