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ILO Launches global campaign on social security for all

Press release | 18 June 2003

GENEVA (ILO News) – Noting that four out of five people in the world lack basic social security coverage, the International Labour Office (ILO) announced today that it would spearhead a campaign to encourage countries to extend social security to more of their citizens.

"Only one-out-of-five people in the world today has adequate social security", said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "What's more, half the world's population has no social security coverage of any kind. We have the will, and now must find the way, to provide more people with the social benefits needed to survive and prosper."

The " Global Campaign on Social Security and Coverage for All", is to be launched today during the 91st International Labour Conference currently taking place in Geneva. The campaign reflects a global consensus on the part of governments and employers' and workers' organizations to broaden social security coverage among working people, particularly in the informal economy, and raise awareness worldwide about the role of social security in economic and social development. The campaign will seek to develop a broad partnership involving international organizations, donor countries, social security institutions and civil society organizations.

According to an ILO study (see note 1) entitled "Extending Social Security: Policies for developing countries", social security coverage involves access to health care and basic income security in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a breadwinner. In the study, ILO estimates show that:

  • Only 20 per cent of the world's population has adequate social security coverage;
  • More than half the world's population lacks any coverage at all;
  • In the least developed countries, less than 10 per cent of the working population is covered by social security;
  • In middle-income countries, social security coverage generally ranges from 20-to-60 per cent of the population, while in industrialized countries it is close to 100 per cent.
In his report to the Conference entitled "Working out of Poverty", Mr. Somavia says social security systems contribute not only to human security, dignity, equity and social justice but also provide a foundation for political inclusion, empowerment and the development of democracy.

"Well-designed social security systems improve economic performance and thus contribute to the comparative advantage of countries on global markets", Mr. Somavia said.

People without social security coverage tend to work in the informal economy in developing countries, rather than hold employment in the formal sector. Even in developing countries with high economic growth, increasing numbers of workers – most often women – have less than secure employment, such as casual labour, home work and self-employment lacking social security coverage.

"There is no universal approach to expanding social security coverage", said Mr. Somavia. "Each country has its unique situation and requires tailored solutions."

Mr. Somavia pointed to a number of middle income countries that have been successful in expanding the coverage of their social security systems. The Republic of Korean, he noted, increased health coverage from 20 per cent to 100 per cent between 1977 and 1989, while Tunisia increased both health and pension coverage from 60 per cent to 84 per cent between 1989 and 1999. In addition, Costa Rica has achieved full health coverage for its citizens through a combination of social insurance and free access to public health services, while Brazil has lifted millions of families out of poverty by expanding tax-financed social pensions.

The campaign will seek to leverage the support of the ILO's tripartite constituents – as well as other organizations – to initiate and sustain efforts to help countries develop and expand social security systems through a process of experimentation and social dialogue.

It will also intensify efforts already underway in 40 countries for extending social security, and initially concentrate on five key activities including extending social security through social dialogue, strengthening community-based schemes including the use of micro-insurance to meet social security needs, projects for overcoming social exclusion, extending health care coverage and establishing pilot projects for extending social security through a Global Social Trust that links developed and developing countries to kick-start social protection schemes.

For more information, please see or contact:

Social Security Policy and Development Branch
Tel. +4122/799-6635
Fax: +4122/799-7962

Note 1 - Extending social security: Policies for developing countries , ESS Paper No. 13, Social Security Policy and Development Branch, Wouters van Ginneken, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2003. ISBN 92-2-113487-3.