More than 4 billion people still have no social protection, says ILO report

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the social protection gap between high-income and low-income countries.

GENEVA (ILO News) – Despite the unprecedented global expansion of social protection during the COVID-19 crisis, more than 4 billion people around the world remain totally unprotected, according to a new report by the International Labor Organization. Labor (ILO).

It finds that the response to the pandemic has been uneven and insufficient, widening the gap between high and low income countries and failing to provide the social protection that all human beings so desperately need.

Social protection includes access to health care and income security, in particular with regard to old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, accidents at work, maternity or the loss of the main breadwinner. family, as well as for families with children.

“Countries are at a crossroads,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “This is a pivotal moment to harness the response to the pandemic to build a new generation of rights-based social protection systems. These can protect people from future crises and give workers and businesses the security to approach the multiple transitions ahead with confidence and hope. We must recognize that effective and comprehensive social protection is not only essential for social justice and decent work, but also for creating a sustainable and resilient future.

The World Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at a crossroads – in pursuit of a better future provides a global overview of recent developments in social protection systems, including social protection floors, and covers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report identifies protection gaps and sets out key policy recommendations, including in relation to the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Currently, only 47% of the world’s population is effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit, while 4.1 billion people (53%) do not obtain any income security from their national social protection system.

There are significant regional inequalities in social protection. Europe and Central Asia have the highest coverage rates, with 84% of people covered by at least one benefit. The Americas are also above the global average, with 64.3%. Asia and the Pacific (44%), the Arab States (40%) and Africa (17.4%) show marked gaps in coverage.

Globally, the vast majority of children still lack effective social protection coverage – only one in four children (26.4%) receive a social protection benefit. Only 45% of women with a newborn baby in the world receive a cash maternity benefit. Only one in three severely disabled people (33.5%) worldwide receives a disability benefit. Unemployment benefit coverage is even lower; only 18.6 per cent of the world’s unemployed are actually covered. And while 77.5% of people over retirement age receive some form of old-age pension, significant disparities remain between regions, between rural and urban areas, and between women and men.

Public expenditure on social protection also varies considerably. On average, countries spend 12.8% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection (excluding health), but high-income countries spend 16.4% and low-income countries only 1.1% of their GDP to social protection.

The report says that the financing gap (the extra spending needed to provide at least minimum social protection for all) has increased by around 30% since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

To ensure at least basic social protection, low-income countries would need to invest an additional $77.9 billion per year, lower-middle-income countries an additional $362.9 billion per year, and upper-middle-income countries an additional 750 an additional $.8 billion. per year. This equates to 15.9, 5.1 and 3.1% of their GDP, respectively.

“There is huge pressure for countries to move to fiscal consolidation, after massive public spending on their crisis response measures, but it would be seriously damaging to cut social protection; investments are needed here and now,” said Shahra Razavi, Director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department.

“Social protection is an important tool that can create broad social and economic benefits for countries at all levels of development. It can underpin better health and education, greater equality, more sustainable economic systems, better managed migration and respect for fundamental rights. Building systems capable of delivering these positive results will require a combination of funding sources and greater international solidarity, particularly with support for the poorest countries. But the benefits of success will go beyond national borders to benefit us all,” she said.

Specific measures to promote universal social protection have been highlighted in the Global Call to Action for a people-centred recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Call to Action, which outlines a comprehensive recovery package, was unanimously endorsed in June 2021 by ILO Member States, representing governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations.

Joel C. Hicks