The speakers from Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa – collectively known as the BRICS countries – outlined a series of remarkable efforts to expand and improve social security coverage during an information session organized by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) during the 100th International Labour Conference, meeting in Geneva.
“Through a variety of innovative programmes and strong political will, coupled with major financial commitments, the BRICS countries have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and afforded them access to social security,” said Errol Frank Stoové, ISSA President.
The BRICS countries have gained prominence in recent years for their rapid economic growth as well as for major achievements in the field of social protection.
The panel, which was composed of Ministers and senior officials from all five countries, reflected a growing international consensus on the need to expand social protection systems, and demonstrated that remarkable results can be achieved by combining efforts to provide minimum social benefits to all with the extension of more adequate contributory social insurance schemes.
Flagship programmes for vulnerable groups
The panellists from Brazil and India highlighted their flagship programmes mainly targeted at the poorest sectors of their societies, including workers in the informal sector, while the representatives of the Russian Federation and South Africa pointed to the remarkable strides their respective countries made in recent years to improve social security services, particularly for the elderly and children.
Particularly remarkable developments in scale have taken place in the People’s Republic of China, where an ambitious plan is underway to ensure universal coverage for urban and rural populations by 2020. The government estimates that over 1.2 billion people, or 94% of the population by the end of 2010 had access to basic medical insurance, and participants in the basic old-age insurance scheme for urban areas had increased to 257 million people – a 50% increase since 2005.
Several of the panellists also pointed to the major challenges their countries still face, including the consequences of the economic crisis, the sustainability of financing models of social protection and the difficulty of extending coverage to the informal sector, which in India, for example, represents a majority of the working population.
Concluding the session, ISSA Secretary General Hans-Horst Konkolewsky told delegates that “what we heard today confirms that the extension of social security coverage is possible, and that much progress can be made when political will and administrative capacity work in synergy. Social security is not a cost, but a productive investment in the economic and social development of a country.”
The Secretary General confirmed the forthcoming launch of a comprehensive ISSA project to study and analyse social security extension in the BRICS countries.
The ISSA is grateful for the contribution of ILO Department of Communication to this article. Photos: ILO/ILC pool