Half of the world’s population has no social protection, according to the UN

More than half of the world’s population has no social protection as many countries provide more services to their people amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

In a report on the state of social protection around the world, the UN’s International Labor Organization said 4.1 billion people lived without any kind of social safety net.

Social protection includes access to health care and income security measures related in particular to old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, accidents at work, maternity or loss of principal. family support, as well as additional support for families with children.

In 2020, only 46.9% of the world’s population enjoyed at least such protection, according to the report – the first ILO on the subject since 2017.

This low rate came even as access to health, sickness and unemployment benefits proved more relevant than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This crisis has revealed the absolutely crucial role that social protection has played in national responses around the world,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters.

“Without the massive and rapid expansion of social protection during the COVID-19 crisis, its impact would certainly have been much worse than it actually was.”

“Frays of optimism”

Ryder said this renewed appreciation for social protections has offered “glimmers of optimism amid the devastation wrought by the pandemic.”

He urged countries to focus their recovery efforts on strengthening social protections.

“Countries are at a crossroads,” he said in a statement, stressing that “this is a pivotal moment to harness the response to the pandemic to build a new generation of social protection systems based on rights”.

But while the pandemic has been an opportunity to improve social protections, it has also laid bare the stark disparities between the protections currently offered in different parts of the world.

Ryder said the COVID crisis had acted “like an X-ray for global society”, revealing “great gaps in the coverage, adequacy and comprehensiveness of social protection”.

Europe and Central Asia have the highest coverage rates, with 84% of people covered by at least social protection, followed by the Americas, at 64.3%, according to the ILO.

Some 44% of people living in the Asia-Pacific region and 40% of people in the Arab States benefit from at least social protection, while in Africa only 17.4% of people benefit from it.

Countries spend an average of 12.8% of their gross domestic product on social protection, excluding health care, but this spending also varies widely.

While rich countries spend 16.4% of their GDP on these protections, low-income countries spend only 1.1%, according to the report.

And the pandemic could easily worsen the disparities.

The ILO report highlighted that the growing need for health services and income security measures during the pandemic has skyrocketed the cost of guaranteeing basic social protection services for many economies in crisis.

To guarantee at least a basic level of social security, upper-middle-income countries could expect to invest an additional $750.8 billion each year, equivalent to 3.1% of their GDP, the report says. .

Low-income countries are expected to invest an additional $77.9 billion, equivalent to 15.9% of their GDP.

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Joel C. Hicks