Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a new UNDP-ILO report calls for social protection for workers in the informal economy

Press release | 10 February 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated a focus on vulnerabilities of informal economy workers in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, they represent 86 and 92 per cent of men and women’s total employment respectively, and nearly 9 in 10 young workers. These workers are also a large share of the 82 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans without access to social protection. While not all workers within the informal economy are poor, most are highly vulnerable to poverty, with limited means to cope with the economic, social and health impacts of the pandemic.

In recent years, African governments have made significant efforts to develop a range of contributory social protection schemes covering workers in the informal economy. The new UNDP study, Informality and Social Protection in African Countries: A Forward-looking Assessment of Contributory Schemes, provides an overview of extension practices in Africa through seven country case studies – illustrating the range of emergent design practices. These include extension of legal and effective coverage; improvements in quality of benefits and services provided, introduction of new schemes; making informal workers’ contributions more sustainable while remaining affordable and flexible; and leveraging digitalization to simplify administrative procedures.

The report raises the urgent need to scale up innovative approaches to expand coverage, ensuring that emerging schemes have greater financial sustainability through a mix of contributions from employers and businesses along the supply chain, workers and public finance. Schemes must be designed in a gender-sensitive manner to correct gender inequalities in the labour market. While social protection is an important component in protecting informal livelihoods, it should be considered within an integrated package of measures that can generate greater and more secure incomes and job quality.

“Although many African countries have introduced temporary measures to protect incomes and livelihoods of vulnerable populations during the current pandemic, there is urgent need to protect all workers regardless of their employment status. COVID-19 recovery strategies give us one way out, to use social protection tools to fight inequality in Africa,” said Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary General and Director, Regional Bureau of Africa, UNDP.

Paying attention to legal, policy and institutional capacity is key to ensure that coverage is a primary consideration in national institutions, and that it is sustainable. “The extension of coverage to workers in the informal economy should be part of a comprehensive and integrated national social protection strategy, which should be led by the government and built around fundamental principles, including the universality of protection; the adequacy and predictability of benefits; financial sustainability; non-discrimination, sound administration; and tripartite participation,” said Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa.

The report Informality and Social Protection in African Countries: A Forward-looking Assessment of Contributory Schemes was released on 10 February by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), at a virtual side event during the UN 59th Session of the Commission for Social Development – CSocD59. The report is available for download in English and French.

In Africa and globally, UNDP and ILO partner within the Global Framework for Action to support the UN System-wide Socio-Economic Response to the COVID-19 crisis and to build pathways for a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

About UNDP

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in some 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

About the ILO

The International Labour Organization is the United Nations agency for the world of work. We bring together governments, employers and workers to drive a human-centred approach to the future of work through employment creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue.