Interview: The ISSA can contribute to shaping the future of social security
Dr Joachim Breuer was elected as the 16th President of the ISSA at the World Social Security Forum in November 2016. Dr Breuer is the Director-General of the German Social Accident Insurance, and is internationally recognized as an expert on social security and social insurance.
The ISSA Communication Unit asked Dr Breuer about his priorities and expectations for the ISSA as it marks its 90th anniversary, and some of the challenges and opportunities facing social security around the world.
You were elected as ISSA President at the World Social Security Forum (WSSF) in November 2016. What were your motivations to stand for this position?
My main motivation was – and is – my passion for social security. Social security addresses our most essential needs as human beings: financial security, health, safety and inclusion. It is the invisible fabric which supports our lives and which can give us the confidence to try something new because we know that we can rely on protection in the case of failure.
Unfortunately, most people in countries with high levels of social protection do not realize how complex and beautiful this fabric is, and how much they stand to lose without social security. Travelling to countries which have yet to implement an infrastructure of social protection teaches a valuable lesson in this respect. And working with countries to develop their systems can fill you with enthusiasm for social security – which is why I have always enjoyed being active in the context of the ISSA.
The ISSA marks its 90th anniversary this year. How would you define the role and main achievements of the Association?
Since its creation under the auspices of the International Labour Organization in 1927, the ISSA has played – and still plays – a crucial role in the expansion of social security coverage. We live at a time when more people than ever enjoy the benefits of social protection. There is still a lot to do in terms of coverage but this should not make us blind to the tremendous achievements of the past few decades. The ISSA is a part of this success story. And, after nine decades, the ISSA still enjoys a privileged partnership with the ILO.
The ISSA has become the most important global source of information and expertise on good governance and innovation in the area of social security. In my opinion, it should now add advocacy for sound social security policies to its portfolio.
As we discussed at the WSSF in Panama, social security is facing a rapidly-changing global context. What do you see as some of the main challenges for social security and for the ISSA membership?
The ISSA launched its report on the Ten global challenges for social security at the World Social Security Forum, and I highly recommend this study to anyone interested in this area.
I believe that one – perhaps the most important – challenge which social security must face in the near future is the question of sustainable financing. Everywhere, the world is experiencing demographic change, and workforces are shrinking or stagnating relative to the growing number of beneficiaries of social security.
Against this backdrop, it is important that we do everything to ensure that people can have long and productive working lives. Social security can contribute to this by promoting prevention, rehabilitation and workplace reintegration.
Then we need to consider the consequences of the digital transformation of our economies. I do not believe that machines will soon replace all human workers. But it is obvious that technology is creating changes in the labour market which will also affect the ways in which social security is financed.
How can we ensure that “click workers” or Uber drivers have adequate social protection and that their occupational safety and health is ensured? Can traditional models of social security still function in the context of the gig economy? Or do we need new ideas such as a universal basic income, for example? I think that we, as social security institutions, should not leave these questions only to economists. We are the experts for social protection, and we should actively participate in the debate shaping the future of our field.
What will be your priorities as ISSA President?
I have four priorities for my term of office as ISSA President. First of all, I want to address a need which many ISSA members have expressed in their discussions with me before and during the WSSF: the transfer of expertise needs to become more effective on the ground. Exchange programmes and internships could be a way to accomplish this.
Secondly, I want to expand the ISSA membership base. Today, there are still countries which are not yet part of the ISSA family. I want to change this. A stronger membership base means a stronger ISSA, and a stronger ISSA can work more effectively for its members.
One point which we will also need to address is financing. Together with the ISSA membership, I want to review the finances of our organization and identify ways in which we could increase available resources or use them more efficiently.
Last but not least – and this ties in with what I have just said about the challenges ahead – I want the ISSA’s voice to be heard in the world. We should not stand on the side-line and watch while others – for example, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund – shape the future of social security.
In conclusion, what is your main message to ISSA members?
My main message to ISSA members is to become more involved. Do not simply see the ISSA as a means of getting state-of-the-art information on managing social security institutions. See it as a means of exchanging information about the developments affecting our field such as new policies, new technologies or social trends. I invite members to contact me, and to communicate with each other, if you think that a subject needs to be addressed.