Extension of coverage

A vision of social security for all

From country to country, and even within national frontiers, social security coverage levels vary widely. While the richest economies have nearly universal coverage, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have coverage levels of less than 10 per cent of the population.

Based on estimates available, around 20 per cent of the world's population has access to adequate social security. Thus, realizing improvements in coverage is vital.

How is coverage defined?

Coverage is usually defined using one of two broad approaches: 1) the legal entitlement that citizens, workers, and their households have to specific public benefits or services; or 2) the number of actual recipients of such benefits or services. To measure coverage, different methods may be used. For instance, contributory programmes generally measure the number of contributors as a percentage of the labour force, while tax-financed programmes may measure coverage as a percentage of the national population or as a percentage of the target population receiving support, for example the eligible poor. Health care programmes may also take into account financial protection against costs and measures of health outcomes.

Comprehensiveness and adequacy – two key factors

An important aspect of coverage is comprehensiveness. Social security systems are comprehensive if they provide benefits and services to cover the risks of:

  • old age, survivorship and disability (work and non-work related)
  • ill-health and frailty
  • unemployment
  • maternity and child rearing

Comprehensive systems cover most citizens, workers, and their dependants. Less comprehensive systems not only cover a smaller number of risks but exclude certain professional or population groups. The widespread exclusion of informal workers, for example, represents one major challenge to extending coverage.

A further important aspect of coverage is adequacy:

  • How should benefit levels be calculated?
  • What should be the maximum period for receiving a benefit?
  • How might social security systems guarantee, at least, basic social security and health care for all?

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