The current challenges of social protection in the world

The pandemic has laid bare significant gaps in social protection coverage around the world. The fallout from the war in Ukraine puts further pressure on social protection systems. The ILO presented the current state of social protection at a conference organized by the Belgian dialogue on Universal Social Protection 2030.

News | 17 May 2022
Shahra Razavi, Director of the ILO Social Protection Department, gave an overview of the current state and challenges for social protection at a conference on Universal Social Protection, How to make it happen?, organized by the Belgian dialogue on Universal Social Protection 2030 (USP2030).

The pandemic has exposed deep-seated inequalities and significant gaps in social protection coverage, comprehensiveness and adequacy across all countries. Many of the two billion workers in the informal economy lacked access to social protection during the crisis.

Although countries without social protection systems took several emergency measures, they were not sufficient for the state of the crisis. Many developing countries responded by taking temporary, often very short-term social protection measures, many of which have now expired. “The jury is still out on the effectiveness of these measures, but they left a lot to be desired,” said Ms Razavi.

The war in Ukraine is having a huge global fallout. It causes mass displacement, is accelerating global food price inflation, and according to Oxfam, 260 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty this year. There are signs of social unrest due to price hikes. “We can expect a difficult year ahead, and all countries will need to bolster their social protection system to deal with the cost-of-living crisis,” said the Director.

“Providing social protection to all human beings is our goal,” said Meryame Kitir, Belgium’s Minister for Development Cooperation. “Financing, with both international financing and domestic resources, is one the most pressing challenges. A difficult challenge to be sure, but in no way an excuse for doing nothing.”

The Belgian USP2030 coalition helps the ILO to put social protection high on the political agenda. Ms Razavi also thanked Belgium for its funding to the ILO Flagship programme Building social protection floors for all. Belgium supports the implementation of the programme in the Great Lakes Region, and supports Senegal and Burkina Faso in strengthening their national social protection systems.

Closing gaps throughout the life course

Today, 46.9% of the global population are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit. Social protection for children remains limited, yet it is critical for unlocking their development. The COVID-19 social protection response was insufficiently child sensitive.

About 45% of women with newborns receive a maternity cash benefit, ensuring income security. Only a third of the world’s working age population have their income security protected by law in case of sickness. Only 34% of people with severe disabilities receive a disability benefit. Only one in five persons who are unemployed actually receive unemployment benefits. 78% of people above retirement age do receive some form of old-age pension, but the level of the pension is often insufficient.

“Social protection has acted as a stabilizer to protect people’s health, jobs and income during the pandemic,” said Ms Razavi. Many governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations have seen the value of why they need to invest in social protection, pay taxes, and ensure that social protection kicks in across the lifecycle of a person.

Countries are now at a crossroads with regard to the trajectory of their social protection systems for the future. “Adequate social protection should be extended to all, including workers in any type of employment, to reduce their vulnerability and enable them to seize opportunities, support their life and work transitions, and help them to better navigate the future of work. It is time to accelerate progress towards universal social protection,” the Director concluded.