As part of the wider economic stimulus packages to respond to the second wave of COVID-19, governments continue to temporarily defer the collection of social security contributions (SSC), or to exempt from or reduce the contribution payments of some population groups. To date, 68 countries have introduced at least one of these measures (ISSA Coronavirus Country Measures Monitor). An April 2020 communication from the European Commission supported these as a “valuable tool to reduce the liquidity constraints of undertakings and preserve employment” during the COVID-19 crisis (EC 2020a).
The COVID-19 pandemic is further exposing significant challenges in many health and long-term care (LTC) systems driven by ageing societies. The need for strategies and solutions to support policymakers and social security institutions in facing the LTC challenge is fundamental to guarantee that no older person is left behind.
At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the immediate response of governments has been massive in both scale and coverage, to cushion the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic. A raft of emergency measures were urgently implemented including ad hoc income transfers and unemployment benefits, targeted subsidies, free COVID-19 tests, subsidized health care and other support programmes. In many countries, governments have relied on social security institutions to distribute these subsidies and benefits, including to the most vulnerable groups especially low-income earners, informal sector workers, women, migrants and the youth.
Originally aimed at safeguarding the value of financial assets and ensuring the financial viability and long-term sustainability of pension schemes, investing social security reserve funds has surged to become a core business process in social security administration. At the onset, investment decisions were informed essentially by the investors’ quest for capital and guided by the fundamental principles of safety, liquidity and yields with a predominant focus on financial instruments and/or financial markets (Cichon et al. 2004).
Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing gaps in social security coverage. The crisis' impact is particularly severe in low- and middle-income countries where many workers, especially those in the informal sector, have no access to any form of social protection. The crisis prompted governments to establish new social security benefits on an emergency basis for uncovered groups and to take rapid measures to expand existing social security schemes for those covered populations perceived as particularly vulnerable.
In Europe, the second wave of the coronavirus has since September prompted the re-introduction of social distancing measures, restrictions to economic activity, telework, curfews and lockdowns. Without certainty on the duration of the health crisis and its knock-on effects on the economy, governments have been re assessing the status of social security benefits and measures introduced since the onset of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed work arrangements. Teleworking has been introduced or expanded around the world to reduce the risk of infection at the workplace. This has also affected frontier workers in the European Union (EU). As they normally work in one country and reside in another one, changing the place of work to one’s home can influence which country’s social security legislation is applicable to them.
Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security. However, the realization of the human right to social security remains a declaration of intent rather than an enforceable right for a significant share of the global population.
Building fairer and more inclusive societies requires reversing the root causes of gender inequality. Access to social security is an important step in this regard, as it promotes the economic empowerment of women. Importantly, social security systems must be designed and delivered in a gender-sensitive way.
The emerging use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in social security institutions is enabling more proactive and automated social security services. Nevertheless, the application of AI in social security is also challenging, and institutions are defining how they can concretely take the most advantage of this new technology. This article introduces to AI and describes some application experiences in social security based on discussions held in the ISSA European Network Webinar: Artificial intelligence for social security institutions as well as on other material.