Workers on a construction site, Egypt, 2008. Photo: M. Crozet/ILO.
Delegates were reminded that social security is, indeed, a basic human right and heard at length how social security programmes offered a variety of economic and political – as well as social – benefits. Together, these elements made a meaningful contribution to social cohesion and stability.
However, delegates were equally reminded that the majority of the world’s population had no access to comprehensive social security coverage. According to recent ILO figures, globally, only 20 per cent of the world’s working-age population has full access to adequate social security and about one-third is without access to any health-care coverage.
Moreover, the global downturn means that job losses have increased and poverty has risen. The regions impacted most are South Asia, South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, regions where social security systems are commonly less comprehensive and population coverage levels lower.
The plenary discussion agreed that a coverage challenge was to reach workers in the informal economy, such as domestic workers, the self-employed, family labour, as well as workers with low skills and with precarious or no labour contracts.
Sectors such as agriculture and construction were deemed a priority, while migrant labour presented special challenges. Positively, evidence showed that population groups could be reached through specific and tailor-made approaches that adapted benefit packages and mechanisms for contribution collection.
New ISSA strategy for coverage extension
A main objective of the morning session was to introduce the ISSA Strategy for the Extension of Social Security Coverage . The strategy is an explicit mechanism to guide and structure future ISSA activities as regards the extension of social security coverage.
According to national circumstances and priorities, the strategy has foreseen that ISSA member organizations should make a meaningful contribution to coverage extension in four specific areas. These are improving compliance and contribution collection, extending coverage to difficult-to-reach groups, supporting the successful administration of tax-financed minimum benefit schemes, and advocating for the extension of social security nationally.
In this regard, the intention is to institute mechanisms to monitor and report progress made by ISSA member organizations.
Complementary to ILO and UN initiatives
The ISSA strategy aims to complement the ILO’s Global Campaign on Social Security for All as well as the joint UN agency initiative to develop a global “Social Protection Floor”, to provide universal access to at least a minimum basket of essential cash and health-care benefits, as a human right.
As regards these wider issues, the Forum’s afternoon parallel sessions saw a number of coverage questions addressed in greater detail.
One less discussed issue is growing vulnerability in richer countries. It was noted that measures were required to ensure that social security coverage in these countries remained not only universal but also provided benefits that were adequate.
For working populations more generally, a further challenge was to encourage and provide incentives for the payment of contributions by those who can afford to do so, while offering tax-financed minimum guarantees to those who cannot.
It was made clear that wide coverage and sustainable financing could not be achieved without well-functioning contribution collection systems. Further improvements in contribution compliance were required, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Again, migrant workers posed significant challenges.
Such improvements were needed to contribute to the financial health of all social security programmes, which in turn would support the realization of coverage extension.