The essential role of social security systems in Europe has once again been demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remaining coverage gaps, demographic changes and labour market transformations require adaptations and reform. The International Social Security Association (ISSA) has released a new report on the priorities for social security in Europe, in connection with its Regional Forum organized in Tallinn, Estonia.
Many of the roots of social security come from Europe and most European countries are today well advanced in terms of legislation, systems and institutions. Social security coverage is relatively high, with 83.9 per cent of the population covered by at least one benefit, compared to the global average of 46.9 per cent. The strength of social security systems has also helped European populations and societies through the COVID-19 pandemic, with the possibility to rely on existing schemes and over 500 special measures implemented by December 2021.
At the same time, much remains to be done and social security institutions have to continuously evolve and innovate in order to address new developments and challenges. The new ISSA report on Priorities for social security – Europe 2022 outlines trends, challenges and solutions within five specific areas, in line with the thematic priorities ISSA members identified for the period 2020–2022. It is presented and discussed at the Regional Social Security Forum for Europe, taking place in Tallinn, 2–3 May. The priorities and some of the key messages outlined in the report are:
Evolving management practices: European social security institutions are using innovative management practices and digital solutions that enable reaching the objectives of social security and excellence in service delivery. While technologies have been part of European social security systems since many years, new trends require redefining digital strategies, notably considering institutional transformation objectives, leadership, a strategic plan, and a whole-of institution approach. While a data-driven social security supported by artificial intelligence, analytics and big data becomes more and more important, human oversight and accountability are always required.
Extending and maintaining social security coverage: While social security coverage is high in Europe, key coverage challenges stem from new forms of work, notably digital platform work. Many European countries, and also the European Union, are taking important steps to address this. Another important priority area is to ensure social security coverage for migrant workers through bilateral and multilateral agreements, and to make sure that people access their rights to social security
Meeting the needs of an ageing population: By 2050, the share of people aged 65+ in Europe will increase from the current 19 per cent to 28 per cent of the total population. Efforts to address this challenge focus on supporting health, activity and employment, ensuring financial sustainability of pension systems, and on holistically developing formalized long-term care and services.
Promoting inclusive growth and social cohesion: Social security needs to focus on the economic empowerment of people through a life-course approach. For the young, skills development and transition to the labour market is key, while the right to social protection has to be upheld in a more and more digital and globalized economy where platform work and migration are widespread.
Social security responses to COVID‑19 to the pandemic: During the pandemic, unemployment and sickness insurance benefits have been key pillars of social security responses. Social security institutions have focused on business continuity and service delivery in order to support people and make sure they have jobs to go back to. Digitalisation strategies implemented during the pandemic will be essential for the further development of effective client-oriented social security systems and services.
The new ISSA report provides a basis for many of the discussions at the Regional Social Security Forum for Europe, and will feed into a global report that will be presented at the World Social Security Forum in Marrakech, Morocco, 24–28 October 2022.