International Policy and Research Conference on Social Security, Luxembourg 2010
The consequences of emerging “mega-trends” for social security were among the topics addressed by the International Policy and Research Conference on Social Security, in Luxembourg, 29 September to 1 October 2010. The conference attracted 200 researchers, policy-makers, academics, administrators and other members of the social security community from more than 50 countries, and was hosted by the Association of Social Security Institutions of Luxembourg (ALOSS).
Researchers and experts at the event agreed that major emerging trends will fashion a new future for social security and will redefine approaches to the key questions of the extension of social security coverage, demographic ageing and the increasing informality of the labour market.
Participants also recognized that, in an increasingly unstable world, social security programmes will need to reassess their missions in the light of new and emerging risks. Social security must find the necessary resources to compensate for the inadequacies of the labour market and to provide adequate benefits for the poorest in order to compensate for the failings of the market.
Facing systemic crises
According to an ISSA analysis prepared for the conference, in an increasingly unstable environment, social security programmes have a key role to play both in alleviating the sometimes disastrous impact of socio-economic upheavals and in participating – through the allocation of replacement incomes – in maintaining levels of consumption in the face of crises; they can also participate in the development of individual potential and productive capacity in order to make people less vulnerable to risk and to encourage social integration.
Speakers at the conference highlighted the need for more preventive, social investment, approaches to face the new demographic context for social security policies, and recognized that social security policies have to be able to anticipate and integrate socio-economic contexts that are significantly different from those in existence when these policies were introduced. Social security schemes will need to focus more on emerging groups of vulnerable individuals such as the very old and fragile, new entrants to the labour market – marked by a particularly high unemployment rate – or migrant populations.
Faced with the increasing prevalence of systemic crises, integrated approaches to reform, which take into account the range of social security and income redistribution schemes in a society, are required to protect the most vulnerable, according to keynote speaker Ravi Kanbur, International Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and Professor of Economics at Cornell University.
“When we come to reform social security, we should take an integrated perspective, looking across all schemes, rather than attempting an approach component by component,” Mr Kanbur stated. “We will come up with better policy descriptions if we take an overview of the entire system.”
Demographic ageing as an opportunity
Addressing the major issue of demographic ageing, Anne-Marie Guillemard, Professor of Sociology at the Descartes Sorbonne University in Paris, argued that ageing will affect all aspects of modern society, and therefore cannot be approached uniquely from the perspective of the sustainability of pension schemes.
The profound sociological transformations caused by ageing are an opportunity for our societies, and require a reexamination of our ways of thinking, and of ensuring continued solidarities between ages and generations. This situation provides an opportunity for a “reconfiguration” of traditional social protection, Ms Guillemard told the conference.
“Ageing will imply new, more preventive, instruments of social protection aimed at maintaining social capital and mobility throughout life, and conceived as social investment programmes,” Ms Guillemard anticipated.
The impact of major emerging trends on social policies
Researchers and experts discussed how major emerging mega-trends will shape a new future for social security, but will also create new tensions. Among these, the development of new pandemics and the scale of environmental problems are increasingly issues of concern.
In parallel, social security cannot ignore the technological innovations which will inevitably represent a major challenge for its institutions, experts agree. The computerised era has transformed society: Citizens have greater and more complex expectations and problems to deal with. Faced with these new demands, social security administrations must take the initiative to make changes which reinforce the role of technology but which must at the same time enhance the coherence of the programmes and the services they provide.
Finally, the new distribution of geo-political power will certainly lead to changes in the approach to social security and contribute towards the creation of new frames of reference for social policies. In these circumstances, both ongoing and future reforms will need to take these developments into account, the participants concurred.
To better face these challenges, Einar Øverbye, Professor in Political Science at the Oslo University College, called for greater coordination of social security benefits and services, with the diverse agencies responsible for various benefits and services in a country ensuring that these benefits and services all contribute to working in favour of labour markets.
“In today's dire economic situation, an urgent reform issue concerns how to limit moral hazard while none the less providing social security. A major strategy has been to emphasize labour market activation of security claimants,” Mr Øverbye said.
“Activation is an attempt to steer a middle course by providing security, but in a way that simultaneously stimulates a better utilization of the labour force capacity in a society.”
Supporting research as a key to policy development
Fostering the research capacities of social security organizations is an essential investment for the future, and gatherings of researchers are essential to enhance the exchange of experience among academics and administrators, underlined Fernand Lepage, President of the ALOSS.
“We recognize the importance of research for both social security concepts and policies at all levels,” Mr Lepage said. “Organizations need to see beyond the national level, and can benefit from the findings and experiences of other countries.”
An innovation at the conference was the involvement of a group of young researchers, whose attendance was sponsored by the ISSA. The nine scholars came from various regions, and their presence reflected efforts by the ISSA to encourage exchange between industrialized and developing countries and to foster a culture of mentoring.
Concluding the conference, the ISSA Secretary General Hans-Horst Konkolewsky reaffirmed the commitment of the ISSA to furthering policy research in social security, and informed participants of the ISSA Bureau’s decision to establish a Technical Commission for Social Security Policy Analysis and Research. The Secretary General also announced the launch of a new ISSA Research and Policy Manual, a tool aimed primarily at supporting researchers and managers in developing countries to reinforce their institutional research capacity.
“To successfully protect populations in the future, we need vision and innovation based on sound evidence and research,” Mr Konkolewsky stated, and urged participants to invest in research to strengthen the sustainability of their systems and to further extend coverage to the most vulnerable.
The papers presented at the conference will be available on the ISSA Web portal: International Policy and Research Conference >>