Challenge 1


Closing the coverage gap

Social security is a human right. It helps make improvements on socio-economic issues and strengthens society as a result. More people than ever have access to it, and we are seeing a considerable drop in extreme poverty. But important challenges remain.

Extending coverage is a priority for all nations. This is clear in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and in the ILO's promotion of national floors for social protection.


Many fall through the gap

Policy-makers and social security administrations must reach the groups most affected by access inequalities. They are:

  • the self-employed
  • rural workers
  • those active in the informal economy
  • women

Barriers to access are multiple

Efforts to extend coverage can be held back by:

  • the health and development of the national economy
  • political instability
  • the maturity and legal scope of a social security system
  • the nature of the labour market
  • the size of traditional or rural economies compared to the formal, wage-based economy
  • the effectiveness of the tax system and contribution collections
  • levels of urbanisation
  • geography

Success relies on taking a joined-up approach

Contributions and tax financing must be coordinated in a longer-term strategy. And contributions need to be paid regularly, if benefits are to be adequate and reach more people.. Strong institutions are needed to enforce the process.

Attitudes must change too

It is vital to understand the motivation that lead workers to choose to contribute. And to combine this with a strategy that promotes a ‘social security culture’.

GLOBAL SOCIAL SECURITY COVERAGEPercentage of the world’s population with access to social security benefits

Old-age benefits
Medical benefits
Work injury benefits
Source: ILO (2014), World Social Protection Report 2014/2015.


Governments and administrations are leading the way

Governments have to decide on the kind of society they want to build. But it will not happen unless there is appropriate investment in administrative capacity, infrastructure, technology and people.

Innovating to enable access

From one-stop shops to mobile cash transfers, there are more ways than ever to access protection. Administrations are developing new ways to finance benefits too.

TOWARDS UNIVERSAL SOCIAL SECURITY COVERAGEStatutory provision of social security programmes (1950)

Source: US Social Security Administration / ISSA. Social security programs throughout the world. Data consolidated by the International Labour Office.

TOWARDS UNIVERSAL SOCIAL SECURITY COVERAGEStatutory provision of social security programmes (2014)

Source: US Social Security Administration / ISSA. Social security programs throughout the world. Data consolidated by the International Labour Office.


Increase in people accessing social health protection in last decade
Annual average growth of pension coverage in China (2010–2015)
Source: Social Insurance Administration of the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (2016); Helpage International; ISSA.

PRIORITIES OF ISSA MEMBERSMember institutions that consider extension of coverage to be a priority challenge

  • Africa 87%
  • Americas 52%
  • Europe 30%
  • Asia and Pacific 55%
Source: ISSA global member survey (2015).

Better service delivery is an enabler for better levels of coverage


Inequalities across the life course

Social security systems are not just used to reduce the income gap. They can also actively reduce gender inequality, and improve access to employment and healthcare. By doing so, they help people realise their potential and create a more cohesive society.


Global trends are jeopardising progress

Among the factors causing concern are:

  • the growth in non-standardised employment
  • stagnating wages and rising income inequality
  • changes to family structures
  • high levels of unemployment
  • footloose capital
  • changing migration patterns

Social security systems are under pressure

In some countries, political and financial challenges threaten to scale back the adequacy of programs. For example, with pensions we have seen a tightening of the link between contributions paid and benefits received. This shift could weaken the redistributive role of social security.

Many workers face an uncertain future

Developments in the labour market and employment patterns are making jobs less secure. And there are now many different patterns of employment. As a result, many workers are not able to contribute fully to social security programmes and accrue adequate benefits.

The income gap is widening

Since the 2007-08 financial crisis, many OECD countries have seen rising levels of inequality and poverty. And wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few.


Of the global population owns 1% of the world’s wealth (Credit Suisse)
Of the global population owns 86% of the world’s wealth (Credit Suisse)
Increase in income inequality since the 1980s (OECD)
The gender pay gap: Global average annual earnings (WEF)
Source: OECD (2013); WEF (2015); Credit Suisse (2013).


Getting everyone on board

All social security systems must become more responsive to people’s needs throughout their lives. That must include those in the middle classes, to make sure there is support from all levels of society.

Strengthening social investment

In addition to protection for all, social security must invest in individual capacities. Measures that promote social investment should be strengthened and made more specific to vulnerable groups.

Giving people more control

Policy changes are moving the focus towards helping people to help themselves. For example, by helping people participate in labour markets and promoting independent living.

Conditional cash transfers encourage participation

From young people to pensioners, innovations like conditional cash transfers are helping to build local economies and improve access to education, nutrition and health care.

GLOBAL POVERTY IS DECREASINGShare of population living in absolute poverty by world region, 1981 to 2012

Source: World Bank (2015).

SOCIAL TRANSFERS REDUCE THE RISK OF INEQUALITY AND POVERTYAt risk of poverty rates, before and after social transfers (EU countries, 2014)

Source: European Commission/Eurostat (2016).

Financial as well as social and political sustainability underpin public trust in social security and positive perceptions of social cohesion


Population ageing

The world’s population is ageing. In 2015, 901 million people were aged over 60. In 2050 this figure is expected to reach 2.1 billion, with two-thirds living in Asia. The number of people aged over 80 is expected to triple in that time.


Imbalance between income and expenditure

As populations age, social security and healthcare are more in demand. At the same time, contribution income and other sources of financing will decline.

Existing schemes must adapt

From family structures to working patterns, every aspect of our lives is changing. Yet many retirement schemes, for example, are still designed for steady, linear careers and nuclear families.

Keeping the balance between generations

Social security systems must adapt to the changing needs of older people. But this cannot be at the expense of younger generations.

Changing lifestyles bring new health risks

Chronic health conditions are putting healthcare services under increased pressure. New responses are needed, if those services are to remain accessible and sustainable. Care challenges are also likely to intensify, both for family carers and formal systems.


Average global life expectancy increased by 5 years between 2000 and 2015 (WHO)
Projected world population in 2100, increased from 7.3 billion in 2015 (UN)
The number of people aged 80+ will triple between 2000 and 2050 (WHO)
Source: WHO (2015); UN (2015).


Focusing on prevention

People must be encouraged to take more responsibility for their old age. A lot can be done with information that helps them to better manage their health, money and work, and plan ahead for retirement.

Keeping people in work

Many countries have increased the retirement age, and guarantee a minimum pension income from that point. Investment in return to work schemes and education is also helping to keep people active and earning, and reduce the risk of exclusion and poverty. Reduction in barriers to continued labour participation and promotion of age-friendly workplace.

Tackling falling populations

The population of some countries is not just aging, but also shrinking, especially in the absence of positive net migration. Progressive family policies, like financial support for childcare, can be observed in this context.

Taking care of the carers

Developments in health care systems include streamlining to increase efficiency and a greater focus on staying in good health. Services are being adapted to address chronic conditions. And unpaid carers are increasingly receiving contribution credits, making them more secure when they retire.

THE COST OF AGEINGProjected levels of public expenditure on pensions and health (% GDP)

Source: IMF (2015).

OLD-AGE DEPENDENCY IS INCREASINGThe ratio of older dependants to the working-age population (15-64 years) is growing

Source: OECD (2015).

PRIORITIES OF ISSA MEMBERSMember institutions that consider demographic evolution to be a priority challenge

  • Africa 79%
  • Americas 71%
  • Europe 70%
  • Asia and Pacific 55%
Source: ISSA global member survey (2015).

Demographic trends impact on social security needs, income sources and expenditures


Employment of young workers

Many young people aged 15–25 find it difficult to enter formal, stable employment. Some are active in the informal economy or are full-time students. Others – especially women – are not employed, in education or training, and often have no access to benefits.

While the world economy has recovered from the 2007-08 financial crisis, long-term unemployment remains high in many countries. And this threatens to limit economic activity and contribute to more inequality.


Not enough new jobs are being created

Jobless growth is causing concern around the world. Regions with a younger population are seeing their young workers either turn to the informal economy or emigrate.

Benefits favour those in steady employment

Typically, workers part-fund their benefits. These contributions are often essential to a programme’s continued success. But the approach penalises those who have been in and out of work. This is also the case with pensions, where the link between contributions and benefits is tightening.

Unemployment protection coverage is low

Globally, just over one in ten workers has access to some form of insurance based unemployment protection. While new systems are now being built, young workers often cannot access protection due to a lack of previous contribution payment.


Unemployed youth (aged between 15 and 24) in 2016 (ILO)
Youth are 40% of the world unemplyed (ILO)
Wages lost annually as a result of youth unemployment (OECD)
Source: International Labour Organization (2016); OECD.


Joining up the services

Public institutions, employers and workers’ organisations need to work together support employment. Developed economies are tackling unemployment and poverty through programmes that combine:

  • cash benefits
  • training
  • negative income tax instruments
  • progressive tax systems

Making responses faster, and more targeted

Income protection schemes are essential for getting people into employment. To be effective, they must consider the needs of different workers, especially younger women and men. These young people will get into work quicker if they are reached in their first months of unemployment, ideally as part of a youth guaranty scheme securing employment or training.

Giving young people a helping hand

Younger workers often need help in building their confidence and gaining experience. Measures like skill training should take gender into account, too.

Apprenticeship schemes are also lowering unemployment rates among young workers, helping to bridge the gap between education and work.


Proportion of the global Youth labour force that is unemployed or working poor (ILO)
Number of people entering the labour market each year (ILO)
The number of productive jobs that need to be created over the next decade (ILO)
Source: International Labour Organization (2015).

GLOBAL YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT TRENDSGlobal youth unemployment 2000–2014 (% of total labour force aged 15–24)

Source: ILO; World Bank (2014).

All modern unemployment programmes should consider the specific needs of different groups of workers, in particular of younger women and men


Labour markets and the digital economy

In many economies the nature of work is changing dramatically. People are likely to have several different careers and work for longer, at flexible hours, in a variety of locations and under ever-evolving arrangements. The shift to the digital economy is expected to accelerate this trend, with many roles at risk of being replaced by technology.


Social security systems must evolve to meet new risks

Social security must keep pace with change. The challenge is to prepare systems for the digital economy of the future, and reflect its:

  • societal structures
  • labour markets
  • labour relations
  • production technologies

There is even greater change ahead

The digital economy could bring stronger economic growth and build new connections between people. However, there could also be more critical outcomes such as:

  • job losses
  • increasingly fragmented labour markets
  • the need to adapt labour codes to new forms of work
  • poorer working conditions in some sectors
  • general acceptance of ‘atypical’ employment

New employment relationships put workers at risk

Many people will work on demand, providing services to clients through mobile apps and third-party platforms. These relationships are often informal, and do not take health and safety or social security into account. They also jeopardise the traditional funding of social protection programmes.

THE FUTURE OF WORKDigital technology and automation are transforming the world of work

Percentage of work activities that could be automated using already demonstrated technology (McKinsey)
Estimated number of jobs lost as a result of digital transformation 2015–2020 (WEF)
Children entering primary school today that will work in job types that do not yet exist (WEF)
Source: World Economic Forum (2016); McKinsey (2015).


Closing legal loopholes

Some countries have taken the first steps to protect workers’ rights and benefits in the new economy by reviewing regulatory codes. Relationships are being formalised, and self-employed workers made to pay social security contributions.

Preparing for an uncertain future

Policy-makers and administrations consider the impact of digitalization and new technical solutions on social security. That includes thinking about what benefits and services people will need, and how they will be financed.

Keeping the human touch

Although the nature of work is changing, some tasks will always be better done by people. That goes for social security services too. New digital solutions are helping to improve the delivery of services, but it is doubtful they will replace people.


Source: World Economic Forum (2016).


Potential increase in global GDP from online work platforms as a result of improved productivity and reduced unemployment (McKinsey)
Percentage of workforce that is self-employed (European Union countries, 2013)
Registered freelancers worldwide on Elance virtual work platform (2015)
Source: McKinsey Global Institute (2015); OECD (2013); Elance (2015).

PRIORITIES OF ISSA MEMBERSMember institutions that consider the labour market situation to be a priority challenge

  • Africa 79%
  • Americas 71%
  • Europe 70%
  • Asia and Pacific 55%
Source: ISSA global member survey (2015).

The world of work is changing, and so must social security systems


Health and long-term care

New health challenges are emerging as the world’s population gets older and lifestyles change. Mental health disorders now make up around 12 per cent of the global burden of disease. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer and Alzheimer’s are also on the rise, and are costly for society, as are long-term care.


Inequality has a direct impact on health

In all societies, inequality and poverty directly affect people’s health. Lifestyle and well-being are often linked to household income levels, with smoking, excessive drinking and obesity presenting serious challenges.

Counting the costs of NCDs

By 2012, NCDs were responsible for 68 per cent of deaths worldwide. The majority were in low- and middle-income countries. Many patients have more than one health condition that needs treatment. While medical costs are expensive, so are the indirect ones, including absence from work and lost productivity.

The nature of disability is changing

Greater awareness of mental health disorders has led to more people being assessed with mental conditions. The number of cases is likely to rise, especially among younger people and women. And they will need a heavily tailored response.

Who will look after the elderly?

More than half of the world’s older people lack quality long-term care. Studies suggest there is a shortfall of around 14 million trained carers worldwide. Meanwhile, changes in family structures mean that traditional support networks cannot be relied on.


Non-communicable diseases are the largest global cause of death and disability (WHO)
Deaths result from non-communicable diseases each year (NCD Alliance)
Nearly 30% of the world’s population are either obese or overweight (Lancet)
Source: World Health Organization; NCD Alliance; Lancet (2015).


Taking a coordinated approach

Social security administrations are already focusing on preventive measures, targeting services and working with other stakeholders.

Encouraging behavioural change

The rise in NCDs calls for changes at societal level. Public policy must encourage people to make better-informed lifestyle choices. Regular health check-ups are an effective way to assess risks and provide health education.

Supporting other initiatives

While social security administrations cannot solve these challenges alone, they can help support:

  • employers’ efforts to improve health and well-being
  • the employment of people with mental health issues and learning difficulties
  • new legal provisions and financing for long-term care
  • the move towards flexible pensionable ages


Healthy life expectancy at birth was 63.1 years globally in 2015, increased from 56.9 in 1990 (WHO)
Global life expectancy for children born in 2015 (WHO)
Since 1990, child deaths have almost halved (WHO)
Source: WHO (2015).

THE GROWING NEED FOR LONG-TERM CAREWorld trends in the share of the population aged 80+, 1960–2050 in percentage).

Source: OECD (2015).

Healthy life expectancy has been increasing more slowly than regular life expectancy


New risks, shocks and extreme events

Many social security administrations were praised for their response to the 2007-08 financial crisis, cushioning people, economies and society from the fallout. More recently their systems have been used to help populations affected by natural disasters and conflict. These situations show how a well-run system can adapt to different events. What has yet to be seen is how far they can go in meeting these new challenges.


Crises are on the rise

Unforeseen events force immediate responses and leave little time to plan. And they are happening more and more often. For example, there were a record 198 natural disasters in 2015.

Epidemics like Ebola, and sudden impact events like antibiotic resistance, are also causing concern.

New situations demand innovative responses

Social security administrations are being asked to respond to increasingly complex situations. For example, climate change, natural disasters and depleted natural resources can bring:

  • flooding
  • water shortages
  • changing land-use patterns
  • increased pressure to migrate
  • depleted food supplies
  • heightened probability of disease

Geo-political uncertainty is a growing concern

It is estimated that there are over 20 million refugees worldwide. Many have been driven to leave their homes by conflict and political upheavals. Civil movements are also growing in influence, especially through the use of social media.


Estimated cost of disasters in 2015 (UNISDR)
Combined losses of social security reserve funds in 2008 (ISSA)
Number of forcibly displaced people and refugees in world (UNHCR, 2015)
Source: UNISDR (2015); UNHCR (2015); ISSA (2010).


Planning for the unexpected

Good communication lines must be put in place. And risk management strategies must go beyond assessing conventional risks to take new threats into account. These plans should look at how programmes can be adapted and resources diverted to give immediate support after disasters.

Encouraging new behaviours

Some countries have schemes that pay people to give up harmful ecological activities, like illegal logging. Others have created jobs in rural areas that make improvements to the environment.

Supporting solutions to societal challenges

In 2015 several European countries opened their borders to massive refugee streams. Since then we have seen significant levels of cooperation between authorities in processing and integrating refugee populations.

Better communication with the public

Social security administrations must be quick to share facts and respond to change. Mass communication channels like radio and TV can also be used to get information out quickly during a crisis.


Projected additional deaths per year caused by climate change, 2030–2050 (WHO)
Number of natural disasters recorded in 2015 (UNISDR)
Annual health costs directly related to climate change by 2030 (WHO)
Source: WHO (2016); UNISDR (2015).

THE IMPACT OF ECONOMIC CRISIS ON UNEMPLOYMENTUnemployment, total (% of total labour force), 2000–2014.

Source: World Bank/ILO (2014).

Professionally-run social security administrations can flexibly adapt to challenges


Protection of migrant workers

There are now over one billion migrants worldwide. Moving region or country, they often bring much-needed skills to host economies and help to relieve labour shortages. Only a fifth are fully protected by social security. Yet they face the same kind of risks as other workers, and can be even more vulnerable. Extending coverage not only helps to formalise labour markets, it can stop people from being exploited.


A dilemma for their home country

The money that migrants send home is important for domestic economies. But this benefit is often out-weighed by problems caused by their absence. For example, many women leave their families to work as domestic helpers or carers, creating a care-deficit at home.

Lack of protection

In the absence of specific regulations or agreements, migrant workers remain unprotected. As a group, they are often difficult to cover.

Systems struggle to keep up

Migrant workers might stay in the host country for only a short time, be active in the informal economy for some of it, and change jobs often. Keeping records up to date can be a challenge, especially if they are still on paper.

It is also difficult to ensure continuation of coverage across countries when they have different systems and processes.

GLOBAL MIGRANT FLOWSThe number of international migrants is growing. Number of international migrants by income group of country or area of destination, 2000 to 2015

Source: UN DESA (2016).


Change from the top down

Countries committed to extending coverage are adapting their:

  • social security legislation
  • benefits
  • contribution structures

Those with large migrant populations have also created digital systems to manage social security entitlements. One innovative approach is to register expatriate workers as soon as they arrive in the country.

Making benefits portable

Countries are working together to strengthen processes and share good practice. Cross-frontier agreements are helping to:

  • confirm the identity of migrant workers
  • check that they are eligible for benefits
  • calculate their entitlements
  • make sure those benefits are portable

Spreading the word

Migrant workers need to be told of their rights and responsibilities. That means finding the best places to reach them, and speaking to them in their own language.


Bilateral social security agreements covering 136 countries
Estimated percentage of migrant workers with full social protection and portability rights
Major multilateral social security agreements covering migrant workers
Source: ISSA; ILO/Natlex.


Remittances of migrants from developing countries (World Bank, 2015)
Percentage of migrants of working age (20 to 64 years) (UN DESA)
Migrants accounted for 70% of the increase in the workforce in Europe over the past ten years (OECD)
Source: World Bank (2015); UN DESA (2016); OECD (2014).

The social security rights of migrant workers globally remain weak


The technological transition

Information and communication technology is transforming social security systems and relations between administrations and the public. By automating some processes and joining up others, it is making services easier to deliver, even on a large scale. Data-driven innovation, mobile technology and the internet are combining to allow more and more people to serve themselves. The digital revolution means that the future will look very different for all of us.


Quality and cost-effectiveness can be hard to control

Large technology projects face some very real risks including:

  • a shortage in skilled workers
  • delays
  • underestimated costs and overspends

The foundations are often not in place

The success of these projects relies on the potential for different technologies to link up and exchange data. Yet common standards are often incomplete or missing.

Cybercrime is a global problem

The threat of hacking and data theft is an ever-present concern. Organisations must manage and protect personal information in a reliable and consistent way.


Global number of households with Internet access
Percentage of the world's population which is using the Internet
Mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide
Source: International Telecommunications Union (2016).


Creating new possibilities with technology

Technology brings many practical benefits, like supporting decision-making, cutting down on mistakes and identifying fraud. It also opens the way to do things differently. By sharing information and systems, administrations can rethink their structures and processes.

Extending coverage

For those already covered by the social security system, technology is making it easier than ever to stay informed and in touch. It is also helping to extend coverage to people who have previously been hard to reach, for example through mobile payment services.

Targeting services

Advanced data processing and data analysis technologies are helping to create more accurate client profiles.

They are also letting administrations improve processes by increasing their ability to perform reliable validations, controls and calculations.

Teaching staff new skills

Taking a smart, open-minded approach to technology can create new opportunities for staff as well as clients. People are needed not just to manage these new systems, but also to identify new processes and services that could take advantage of technology.

TECHNOLOGICAL TRANSITIONGlobal ICT developments 2007–2016

Source: International Telecommunications Union/ICT indicators database (2016).

PRIORITIES OF ISSA MEMBERSMember institutions that consider managing innovation and technological developments to be a high priority

  • Africa 80%
  • Americas 79%
  • Europe 75%
  • Asia and Pacific 68%
Source: ISSA global member survey (2015).

PROGRESS IN GOVERNMENTE-government is progressing in all regions

45 countries had a one-stop-platform, and only 33 countries provided online transactions
90 countries oer one or more single entry portal(s) on public information or online services, or both, and 148 countries provide at least one type of online transactional service
Source: UNPACS (2016).

ICT is a strategic enabler of innovative solutions in social security


Higher public expectations

With the rise of social media, opinions now matter more than ever. Political momentum is gathering for social security as a human right. And the public is increasingly vigilant in demanding good service. Administrations are therefore focusing more on building service delivery around people’s specific needs.


Under pressure to deliver

Many administrations have to cut costs while:

  • improving and integrating services
  • making them more targeted
  • getting better feedback
  • gaining trust from the public

Keeping data safe is crucial

People will have to share their personal details, for systems to truly offer a more personalised experience. Administrations must then make sure they carefully control and monitor access to that information.

The dangers of getting it wrong

Administrations risk damaging their reputation if the public feels that their service is not good enough or the system itself is unfair.


Percentage of respondents who have a positive impression of their government (emerging and developing countries) (Pew)
Percentage of respondents who express confidence in their national government (OECD countries)
Percentage of respondents who see public employees as a positive influence (Pew)
Source: Pew Research Center (2014); OECD (2015).


Getting to know the people using a service

Meeting public expectations means getting good information about the people using a service. That can be gathered through data from an online platform, or through surveys, polls, conversations and consultations.

Improving processes and performance

Employees’ performance can be improved through training, recognition and rewards. Business processes can also be revamped with:

  • lean management techniques
  • increased digitalisation
  • training and knowledge management
  • teleworking
  • e-government applications

Going electronic, mobile and online

Apps can make services more accessible through mobile. Web platforms are helping people submit forms and documents electronically. Websites are making service information more available to the general public. They all help to put people at the centre of a social security system.

Sharing good practice

Many administrations are being encouraged to embrace change through efficiency goals and increased integration. As they share knowledge and experience they are helping to create a culture of innovation. Progress needs to be measured, and plans tweaked as they go. And the public must be taken on this journey too, so that they understand what is been achieved, and what is still to do.

PRIORITIES OF ISSA MEMBERSResponding to public expectations is a strategic priority for ISSA members

Give priority to improving service accessibility and quality
Give priority to responding to evolving client/public demands
Give priority to strengthening public trust in the institution
Source: ISSA global member survey (2015).


Percentage of respondents who say it is the same or easier to access public services compared to private services online
Percentage of respondents who agree that digital interactions will make government/public services more easily accessible
Percentage of respondents who believe that the ability to interact digitally with government/public services would encourage them to be more engaged
Source: Accenture (2012).

Social security administrations are seeking out new avenues to improve service quality