The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) held a webinar on COVID-19: an opportunity to re-design social security systems for the XXIst Century? for the Latin American region. The conversation, facilitated by Carmen Pagés from the IDB, delved into the precarious state of the region’s social security systems, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Panellists were asked what they believed to be the key “original sins” causing the low coverage and fragmented nature of these social security systems. Santiago Levy and David Tuesta seemed to both agree on one of them: that they were created based on European welfare systems linked to formal employment. The other was the financing of these systems and their non-redistributive nature. An additional issue that was mentioned is that the gradual reforms these systems suffered along the years were just patching up holes instead of having structural impacts on the original sins these systems face.
One interesting point that came out of the discussion, was the assertion that countries should move away from systems that depend solely on formal employment status, towards more universal and equal systems that also diversify how they are financed. This, they argued, was because risks such as death, sickness and disability are not linked to individuals’ employment status, and everyone, regardless of the formal or informal nature of their employment, are vulnerable to said risks. When arguing for the latter, Santiago Levy argued that when we are referring to primary education, nobody questions the formal or informal nature of their parents’ employment.
It would have been interesting if the discussants had stretched that idea even further, and compared the universal primary education argument with the right to social security and the need for universal coverage. Unfortunately, the call for universal coverage of social security from the contributory side does not seem to have the same standing when we are referring to other social protection programmes such as the flagship Conditional Cash Transfers Latin America has consolidated over the years. Maybe for the next pandemic or crisis?
For the full discussions, the recording can be consulted here (in Spanish only).