Africa-EU Partnership

Pandemic reveals gaps in social protection systems

News | 14 October 2020
During the Africa Week in light of ‘A stronger Africa-EU Partnership’, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, SOLIDAR and FES hosted a webinar on Promoting Decent Work and Social Protection for all, focussing on financing social protection in Africa.

The Panelists agreed that the topic could not be more timely and relevant. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, it is having a devastating impact on people’s health and the social and economic fabric. “The crisis has scattered both the lives of many poor people, who were already vulnerable, and the lives of those who were relatively well off before the crisis hit," explained Christina Behrendt, Head of Social Policy in the ILO Social Protection Department. Universal social protection systems, which can protect everyone, are needed.

In Europe, countries with relatively solid social protection systems could react immediately and very forcefully to the crisis. They have insured the effective access to healthcare, including testing and treatment, and paid sick leave, thereby also preventing the virus from spreading to others. The EU countries have mobilized their employment protection schemes, which have played an important role in preventing unemployment, protecting jobs and supporting those who have lost their job. Social assistance benefits have provided at least a basic level of income security to those in need.

“Despite this powerful response, the crisis has tested the limits of European social protection systems, and has exposed important coverage and adequacy gaps, particularly for those who were struggling already before the pandemic, such as platform workers, solo entrepreneurs, workers on temporary contracts and those in the informal economy,” she said.

Many EU countries have tried to close these gaps, and there has been an impressive policy response. 
In many parts of Africa, however, the existing social protection systems were not sufficiently developed for such a strong and automatic response. Before the crisis hit, only 18% of the African population was protected by existing social protection systems, compared to more than 80% in Europe and Central Asia. Many of those without social protection were working in the informal economy.  

Recent ILO estimates have shown that the financing gap for social protection in developing countries has increased further. To close this gap, an additional 1.2 trillion USD would be needed in 2020 to fully finance the total cost of a set of universal benefits that could constitute a social protection floor in developing countries.

Ms Behrendt shared a few recommendations for countries aiming to build a social protection floor. Social protection systems need to respect the principle of solidarity in financing. Forging a broad national dialogue on social protection with the relevant Ministries (including those of Finance and Planning) and the social partners, anchoring social protection systems in national law, and ensuring transparency and accountability are equally important.

The ILO works closely with the European Union to support several African countries to increase their fiscal space on social protection.

The pandemic has shown that we are only as safe as the most vulnerable among us. The global community now recognizes the importance of social protection. “Countries should use the current political momentum to build on the temporary relief measures that they have enacted, and transform these into sustainable social protection systems,” she concluded. This call has been adopted in the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work.

The outcomes of the webinar will feed the S&D's roadmap for Africa in preparation of the EU-African Union Summit in 2021.