“Social protection systems are an indispensable part of a coordinated policy response to the unfolding crisis” highlights the Social Protection Spotlight brief released by the International Labour Organization. According to IMF predictions, global growth could decline sharply through a reduction of 3 per cent in 2020, while global income could be reduced by US$ 2 trillion. This will lead to catastrophic income losses, with working hours estimated to decline by 6.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, which is equivalent to the loss of 195 million full-time workers. Therefore, the global health crisis is also an economic crisis, meaning that governments are facing the double challenge of containing the health pandemic while at the same time mitigating the economic and social impacts which may severely increase poverty and inequality. Social protection plays a key role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring that people can effectively access health care, while also supporting job and income security and contributing to a swift recovery of the economy.
In its Social Protection Spotlight brief, the ILO calls on all governments, together with social partners and other stakeholders, to treat the current global health crisis as an “opportunity to strengthen social protection systems, including floors, as a cornerstone of national social and economic policy architecture.” Countries with effective health and social protection systems in place that provide universal coverage are better prepared to respond to the crisis. Strong, universal systems can react quickly by scaling up existing protection mechanisms and by extending and adapting them to cover previously uncovered populations. For countries with a large informal sector, extending social protection for those that are uncovered should be at the centre of policy efforts.
The ILO Social Protection Monitor has already recorded 548 social protection measures from 108 countries and territories between 1 February and 17 April 2020. While this accounts for 50 per cent of the countries globally, it also means that half of countries have not yet taken action to implement social protection responses. The brief outlines a broad range of areas that can be addressed through social protection responses, including: enhancing access to affordable health care; ensuring income security during sick leave through sickness benefits; preventing job losses and supporting those who lost their jobs through unemployment protection; strengthening old age, survivor and disability benefits to ensure income security for those particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of the crisis; expanding tax-financed benefits; strengthening family leave and care policies; temporarily modifying payments of social security contributions and tax payments for enterprises; and adapting administrative procedures and delivery mechanisms.
Calling on all governments to realise the right to social security, the brief emphasises that “The COVID-19 crisis serves as a wake-up call by exposing serious gaps in social protection systems around the world.” It is critical that systems are strengthened to prepare for the future. Therefore, social protection must be seen as an investment in building the resilience of citizens and economies and not as an additional cost. Previous crises have asserted the vital role of social protection as a social buffer and economic stabiliser that is integral to the smooth and successful functioning of society. If adequately supported in this crisis, the value of social protection will be emphatically underlined once more.
Read more like this:
Pathways’ Perspectives: What has the Covid-19 crisis taught us about social protection?
If you liked this content, sign up to our newsletter for updates here.