The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the social protection gap between countries with high and low income levels.
Despite the unprecedented worldwide
expansion of social protection during the COVID-19 crisis, more than 4 billion
people around the world remain entirely unprotected, a new International Labour
Organization (ILO) report says.
It finds that the pandemic response was uneven and insufficient, deepening the
gap between countries with high and low income levels and failing to afford the
much-needed social protection that all human beings deserve.
Social protection includes access to health care and income security,
particularly in relation to old age, unemployment, sickness, disability, work
injury, maternity or loss of a main income earner, as well as for families with
“Countries are at a crossroads,” said
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder. “This is a pivotal moment to harness the
pandemic response to build a new generation of rights-based social protection
systems. These can cushion people from future crises and give workers and
businesses the security to tackle the multiple transitions ahead with
confidence and with hope. We must recognize that effective and comprehensive
social protection is not just essential for social justice and decent work but
for creating a sustainable and resilient future too.”
Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at the crossroads – in
pursuit of a better future
gives a global overview of
recent developments in social protection systems, including social protection
floors, and covers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report identifies
protection gaps and sets out key policy recommendations, including in relation
to the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Currently, only 47 per cent of the global population are effectively covered by
at least one social protection benefit, while 4.1 billion people (53 per cent)
obtain no income security at all from their national social protection system.
There are significant regional inequalities in social protection. Europe and
Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with 84 per cent of people
being covered by at least one benefit.
The Americas are also above the global
average, with 64.3 per cent. Asia and the Pacific (44 per cent), the Arab
States (40 per cent) and Africa (17.4 per cent) have marked coverage gaps.
Worldwide, the vast majority of children still have no effective social
protection coverage – only one in four children (26.4 per cent) receives a social
protection benefit. Only 45 per cent of women with newborns worldwide receive a
cash maternity benefit. Only one in three persons with severe disabilities
(33.5 per cent) worldwide receive a disability benefit.
unemployment benefits is even lower; only 18.6 per cent of unemployed workers
worldwide are effectively covered. And while 77.5 per cent of people above
retirement age receive some form of old-age pension, major disparities remain
across regions, between rural and urban areas, and between women and men.
Government spending on social protection also varies significantly. On average,
countries spend 12.8 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social
protection (excluding health), however high-income countries spend 16.4 per cent
and low-income countries only 1.1 per cent of their GDP on social protection.
The report says that the financing gap (the additional spending required to
ensure at least minimum social protection for all) has increased by
approximately 30 per cent since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
To guarantee at least basic social protection coverage, low-income countries
would need to invest an additional US$77.9 billion per year,
lower-middle-income countries an additional US$362.9 billion per year and
upper-middle-income countries a further US$750.8 billion per year. That’s
equivalent to 15.9, 5.1 and 3.1 per cent of their GDP, respectively.
“There is an enormous push for countries to move to fiscal consolidation, after
the massive public expenditure of their crisis response measures, but it would
be seriously damaging to cut back on social protection; investment is required
here and now,” said Shahra Razavi, Director, ILO Social Protection Department.
“Social protection is an important tool that can create wide-ranging social and
economic benefits for countries at all levels of development. It can underpin
better health and education, greater equality, more sustainable economic
systems, better managed migration and the observance of core rights. Building
the systems that can deliver these positive outcomes will require a mix of
financing sources and greater international solidarity, particularly with
support for poorer countries. But the benefits of success will reach beyond
national borders to benefit us all,” she said.
Specific measures to promote universal social protection were highlighted in
Call to Action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
The Call to Action
, which outlines a comprehensive agenda for
recovery, was endorsed unanimously in June 2021 by the ILO’s Member States,
representing governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations.