A new ISSA report explains how innovation in social security has facilitated successful emergency responses to the pandemic while also maintaining and improving service delivery.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose serious public health as well as social and economic challenges. Efforts to gain back economies and stem the loss of lives and livelihoods depend critically on the wide availability of vaccines, continued safety protocols, and the sustainability of policies to protect and support people and enterprises.
Amidst the unprecedented adversity, we have witnessed social security institutions in Africa doing their best to deliver on the promise of protection. As the ISSA report affirms, pre-pandemic efforts to build capacities and improve services are enabling an unwavering response to the demands of the times.
The ISSA report, Priorities for social security – Africa 2021: Trends, challenges and solutions, prepared to accompany the Virtual Social Security Forum for Africa, to be held virtually, 5–7 October 2021, covers five key topics:
- Evolving management practices
- Extending and maintaining social security coverage
- Meeting the needs of an ageing population
- Promoting inclusive growth and social cohesion
- Social security responses to COVID-19 in Africa
Chapter 1, Evolving management practices, highlights the increasing use of the one-stop-approach to service delivery and the development of more applications of artificial intelligence, biometrics and business analytics. As the ISSA reports, institutions are consolidating improvements in governance and management practices, with advanced technologies facilitating the enforcement of contribution compliance and addressing error, evasion and fraud. The extensive adoption of mobile technologies in the region is a key factor.
Chapter 2, Extending and maintaining social security coverage, informs that nearly all countries in Africa have adopted plans and strategies to introduce or extend a basic package of social security benefits. Combinations of contributory and non-contributory financing schemes, public and private partnerships, and national and community-based interventions are assisting the delivery of a basic level of protection in many countries. Nonetheless, significant challenges remain, with persistent gaps in the numbers of covered people, the types of risks and contingencies provided for as well as the adequacy of benefit levels.
Chapter 3, Meeting the needs of an ageing population, spotlights that while Africa is the world’s youngest continent, all countries in the region have rapidly ageing populations. Despite subregional differences, ageing is developing simultaneously with socioeconomic trends that accompany urbanization. Notably these affect the family structures that traditionally supported the elderly and frail. In Africa, very few older people receive a pension, and those that do are typically formal employees and civil servants. Despite a growing awareness of the needs of an ageing population, translating this into widespread programmes and interventions remains a challenge.
Chapter 4 focuses on the observed role of social security in Promoting inclusive growth and social cohesion. Seeking to make fuller use of this potential, the report highlights the opportunity offered by the demographic dividend of Africa’s youth and women, whose productive role in the workforce is among the region’s latent strengths. In turn, entrepreneurship, start-ups and small businesses have significant job creation potential that can boost employment, reduce inequality and poverty. Growth of formal employment and greater fiscal space for public expenditure, including for much needed social spending, is the objective.
Chapter 5, Social security responses to COVID-19 in Africa, discusses the measures that have been put in place by many countries in the region to respond to the crisis. In addition to new and expanded social assistance programmes to address the emergency needs especially of vulnerable groups and those that have lost their jobs during the pandemic, the report spotlights labour market and fiscal measures that have supported businesses and households. The pandemic is a major setback for Africa and it could well reverse or delay the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals of the region.
As the ISSA report correctly concludes, the pandemic has shown the necessity and the inevitability of the digital transformation of social security institutions, as well as the need to ensure appropriate staff capacities. By addressing the challenges, the way forward is to build back livelihoods swiftly, urgently and with better, more inclusive outcomes.