More than half of the world’s population lacks social protection: ILO report

More than half of the world’s population does not benefit from any form of social protection, according to a report released on September 1 by the International Labor Organization (ILO). This is the case even after the unprecedented expansion of social protections that took place in the wake of the global COVID-19 epidemic.

In 2020, only 47 percent of the world’s population actually had access to at least one social protection benefit, the ILO found. The remaining 53 percent – up to 4.1 billion people – had no protection. Social protection includes access to health care and income security, for example in the event of unemployment, incapacity for work, old age and for families with children.

“We are only safe for the most vulnerable among us; our well-being and our destiny are inextricably linked, regardless of our location, background or work, ”ILO Director-General Guy Ryder wrote in the report’s introduction. “If some people cannot count on income security when they are sick or in quarantine, public health will be compromised and our collective well-being compromised.”

Marked differences

The “World Social Protection Report 2020-22” assesses recent developments in social protection systems around the world. Social protection coverage still varies considerably across countries and regions, according to the latest research. The populations of Europe and Central Asia are among the best covered, with 84% of their population having access to at least one service. In the Americas, the rate is 64.3 percent. In Asia and the Pacific as well as in the Arab States, a little less than half of the people are covered while in Africa, only 17.4% have access to at least one benefit.

The ILO has found that most of the world’s children have no social protection. Only one in four children in the world receives a social protection allowance and only 45 percent of women with a newborn receive a cash maternity allowance. Only one in three people with severe disabilities can access disability benefits and only one in five people worldwide is covered if they lose their job. Three-quarters of people above retirement age have access to some kind of pension, but coverage varies greatly between regions, rural and urban areas, and men and women.

The gap between rich and poor is widening

The report also looked at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social protection: The additional spending that would now be required to ensure minimum social protection for all, known as the funding gap, has increased by approximately 30% since the start of the pandemic, according to the report.

Low-income countries would need an additional $ 77.9 billion (€ 66 billion) per year to guarantee at least basic social coverage, equivalent to 16% of gross domestic product (GDP). Lower-middle-income countries would need an additional $ 362.9 billion per year and upper-middle-income countries would need an additional $ 750.8 billion per year

On average, countries around the world spend around 13% of their GDP on social protection (excluding health care). But expenses can vary widely from country to country. High-income countries spend an average of 16.4% of their GDP on social protection, while low-income countries spend only 1.1%.

No more expenses needed

The global health emergency caused by the coronavirus has pushed governments to release significant spending on social protection. This includes increasing benefits, improving delivery mechanisms and extending coverage to groups that were previously unprotected.

However, despite international efforts, high-income countries have been more successful in their response than low- and middle-income countries. These hedging and funding gaps between countries supported a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast warning that richer countries were seeing signs of a healthy recovery as the gains of poorer countries reversed, according to the report. Worsened by uneven vaccine deployment, these gaps in social protection also indicate a greater likelihood of an uneven global recovery from COVID-19.

Social protection could bring many social and economic benefits to countries at all levels of development, Shahra Razavi, director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department, said in a press release. These include better health and education, more sustainable economic systems, better managed migration and greater respect for human rights.

“There is enormous pressure for countries to switch to fiscal consolidation, after massive public spending of their crisis response measures,” Razavi said. “But reducing social protection would be seriously damaging – investments are needed here and now.”

Joel C. Hicks