Social Security in the Asia and Pacific Region - An Overview
The region of Asia and the Pacific is the most ethnically, culturally, religiously and economically diverse region in the world. Its population amounts to about 3.7 billion people, or more than half the world population. The region includes some of the wealthiest countries on earth as well as two-thirds of the world's poor and more than 30 of its countries are members of the ILO. The real GDP growth forecasted by the World Bank for 2010 for East Asia and the Pacific and for South Asia is of 8.7 percent and 6.2 percent respectively, vs. the 3.3 percent predicted globally and the 2.3 percent forecast for high income countries.
The diversity of countries in the Asia-Pacific region has also led to various levels of social protection across the region. For instance, the proportion of old-age pensioners in the elderly population ranges from 0.3 percent and 3 percent in Bhutan and Cambodia respectively to 100 percent in New Zealand . As a whole, three countries in the region (Australia, Japan, New Zealand) have fully developed systems of social security. The scope of coverage, either in terms of population coverage, range of insured contingencies or level of benefits, is variably limited across the rest of the region. However, most countries provide some social security benefits, either in cash and/or in kind, for civil servants and other government employees, including the security forces and in many cases workers in the “social” sectors of education and health. In addition, many states mandate some provision, through schemes administered either by government or by private sector organizations (under the government's authority), for specified, employed (sometimes including self-employed) workers in the formal economy.
Challenges in extending coverage
The reasons for low coverage of social security are many and varied and they include: financial constraints; limited statutory mandates; institutional inertia; limited management or administrative capacities; demographic structure and aging of the population; and the massive size of the informal economy, which accounts for about 60 per cent of the total employment in developing Asia.
The challenges facing each national system of social security are diverse, and, where they figure among the priorities of the political agendas, they also differ from country to country. However, there is an increasing trend of recognizing the indispensability of social security for the long-term prosperity of people, society and the economy. Consequently, more and more countries are actively addressing the deficits of social security coverage through numerous innovative policy measures based on wide national consensus and political willingness. To read about these country experiences, click on the countries below:
- Republic of Korea
Significant progress has been achieved over recent years in the Republic of Korea on a fairly wide front, including the achievement of universal access to health care through health insurance.
Progress in the extension of social security coverage achieved in China over the last decade is remarkable given the size of the population. This has been achieved through, among others, the following mechanisms: two new minimum living standard guarantee schemes, financed entirely by the government, providing income security to both urban and rural residents with low incomes; two new health insurance programs, highly subsidized by the government, for the whole rural population and the urban economically inactive groups respectively, which, together with the long existing health insurance scheme for the urban working population (1.2. billion out of the national population of 1.3 billion), now have financial access to basic health care protection; a rural pension system, again subsidized, which was piloted in 2009 and is planned to achieve universal coverage by 2020.
The introduction of a government-financed universal health coverage scheme for those employed in the informal sector, who account for about 72 percent of the total population.
Among other initiatives, the government of India introduced two major policies: one is the Employment Security through National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA), which guarantees 100 days of wage-employment in a financial year to every rural household. Another is the Health Security through Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) scheme, which is proposed to cover all the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families (60 million) by the year 2013-14.
Nepal provides its citizens with an Old age pension, paid unconditionally in principle, to all aged 70 and above who have no other pension income.
It is interesting to note that many of these policy measures are actually of the same type as or very similar to the UN Social Protection Floor initiative, the concept of which is now being supported by more and more countries in the region.
More detailed information can be found on each of the region's Country Pages.
For more information on Unemployment insurance in Asia, Click here!
A Conference on piloting a HI scheme for ...
International Labour Organization, 2008
United Nations ESCAP, 2010
IDS, IHD, 2010
Contact ILO offices and other institutions
The ILO Office in Bangkok: The ILO Office in N Delhi : The ILO Office in Beijing :