As the “world of social security” gathers in Brussels, Belgium, to mark the 2019 World Social Security Forum (14–18 October), the ISSA has prepared a new global flagship report: Ten Global Challenges for Social Security – Developments and Innovation 2019.
The 2019 flagship reports concludes the ISSA’s “ten challenges” research project launched in 2016 that has looked in detail at the internal operational and external contextual challenges facing social security. Looking ahead, the new report takes a strategic step forward. Each of the ten chapters offers evidence provided by ISSA member institutions that shows how they are responding to meet the identified challenges.
Among the ten challenges faced, perhaps key amongst these for the adequacy and sustainability of many national social security programmes is the transformation of labour markets that is associated with the emerging digital economy. Pointedly, as the report shows, the technological developments that accompany this challenging transformation also present opportunities to develop solutions to address many of the problems that may arise.
Just as the rapid development of ICT has made possible new forms of work relationships as well as new types of jobs, and has weakened some elements of social protection, it also offers practical administrative solutions to maintain and extend coverage levels and communication tools and interfaces to support social security administrations to deliver quality services to all stakeholders. This dichotomy is a major take-home message found in the report.
Marrying regulatory reform with innovative social security design
Certainly, some challenges demand greater innovative thinking from social security administrations. Realizing sustainable coverage extension is one. The transformation of labour markets involves the loss of job tasks to automation and digitalization. It also involves the creation of new job tasks as well as job types. Therefore, while new professions and job tasks will be created, others will be lost.
In many countries the pace of the transformation of labour markets is currently outpacing the ability of law makers to update employment law, labour market regulation and workers’ collective rights, occupational safety and health legislation, and national social security codes. This lag in updating regulatory codes to the “future of work” is preoccupying.
To ensure that there is no slippage in the social protection of workers and citizens, as well as to guarantee that employers and workers alike respect fully their respective collective rights and obligations, this broad regulatory base must not only be updated but also be enforced. Also required, however, is the reform of some aspects of social security programme design.
By combining regulatory reform with innovative adaptation of the design of social security programmes, the aim is to extend access to social protection to all: “to leave no one behind”. Of necessity, especially in a period of labour market transition, greater attention will have to be given to the complementarity of tax-financed universal schemes and contributory schemes. Active labour market policies should also be pursued to support social and economic activity and insertion.
The ten global challenges
As the report spotlights, coverage extension is rightly prioritized by the international objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030. However, despite improvements in legal coverage in a great many countries, some population groups still do not have effective access to adequate coverage.
For instance, the needs of young workers in the transition from education to the world of work is a difficult challenge. Typically, required are holistic coordinated responses that incorporate labour market institutions, education and vocational training bodies, as well as social security institutions. But older workers need support too, not least in those countries with emerging labour force shortages in some economic sectors and with ageing populations. In turn, with the progressive shift towards the digital economy, it is accepted that continuous skills development is necessary for younger and older workers alike. No less important for the SDG objectives, the need for gendered responses should be incorporated, as should be measures to meet the needs of formal migrant workers.
A growing emphasis on delivering tailored social protection to all across the life course is being partnered with a focus on prevention and healthy lifestyles. In view of this, the social and economic role of effective, accessible and sustainable health systems is primordial. The demographic transition, characterized by longer life expectancy and falling fertility rates, is not only a social phenomenon but has economic ramifications too. For instance, international care chains result in carers, mainly women, from emerging countries leaving their own dependants at home while migrating to work as carers in other countries. As the report underlines, the sustainable design, staffing and financing of systems of long-term care is one challenge that remains to be fully addressed by most countries.
Lack of effective access to health care is one important source of inequality in society. Labour market inequalities and gender inequality remain other important hurdles to overcome, both of which can contribute to inequalities in access to adequate social security protection. Inequalities that remain intractable can accentuate the existing challenges to social cohesion in many societies. The challenge for all social security systems is to be inclusive of all in society, including those most marginal and precarious who typically often have the most complex personal challenges to overcome.
More generally, the heightened risk and financial cost of external shocks and extreme events is leading many social security systems to consider the notion of risk more broadly.
The report’s main finding is that the important shift associated with the emerging digital economy, alongside concurrent global demographic changes and concerns about inequalities, social cohesion and environmental risk, means that there is a heightened degree of urgency about realizing the international goal of universal social security protection. In this international agenda, national and sub-national differences will continue to require tailored responses. As always, while good practices certainly offer useful guidance, there is no one-size-fits-all response. The ISSA Guidelines on Social Security Administration offer another useful tool in this respect.
Based on country evidence, the 2019 report presents national case studies of the innovative responses initiated to address each of the ten challenges facing social security systems. The evidence presented in the report of such innovation is inspiring and welcome. Yet innovating is risky. The report is correct to assert that its pursuit requires an intelligent mix of leadership, human capital and technology.
For example, the transformation of the labour market and the rise of the digital economy makes it ever more likely that workers will change jobs more often, hold multiple jobs, be engaged in types of work with different job classifications (e.g. employee, self-employed, independent), work in different national jurisdictions, and be covered by different social security systems across their working careers.
Accordingly, the portability of social security, between programmes in a country as well as across national frontiers, has emerged as perhaps the most important strategic enabler to provide life-long, dynamic, innovative and cost-effective social security to all while satisfying public expectations for service quality. To this end, improved coordination amongst institutions and governments is of critical importance, supported by new technology, the standardized exchange of information and enhanced data protection.
The novelty of the 2019 report
This report is the sixth ISSA report focused on the ten global challenges facing social security, and concludes the ISSA’s research project launched in Panama in 2016.
Like the previous reports, each of the ten chapters of this report addresses one challenge only, allowing the reader to quickly access the information of interest. All chapters are structured to first present the broader context and to then explain the nature of the challenge for social security systems.
An important novelty of this 2019 report is to also offer concrete good practice examples derived from the frontline experience of ISSA member institutions. These innovative responses have, in turn, fed into the presentation of four key messages that conclude each of the ten chapters. Each chapter is supported by data infographics.