Economic growth in the Americas in recent years has led to a significant extension of social security coverage. This is borne out by the region now having coverage levels above the global average.
With over 400 public social security organizations active in the Americas, broad social security coverage is offered across the region, including non-contributory pensions and essential health care for older people, and conditional cash transfers for children and vulnerable families.
According to a new study by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) –– Extending and maintaining social security coverage – The Americas, the region has expanded the scope of its social security coverage to the so-called difficult-to-cover groups – informal workers, domestic workers, migrant workers, among others – through innovative policy design and improved administration.
But challenges remain. In the Americas as elsewhere, contemporary societal transformations involving economic and socio-political changes and demographic and technological transitions translate into rapidly evolving needs for different population groups, especially children, women and the elderly.
In line with global ambitions, a number of countries in the Americas have made significant progress in developing universal social protection systems. The extension of social protection through combining contributory and non-contributory schemes is a priority.
Health care presents specific challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic evidences continuing inequalities in access to health services in the region, not least to primary care. In Latin America and the Caribbean, comprehensive long-term care policies remain very limited.
These important issues will be discussed at the ISSA Virtual Social Security Forum for the Americas, to be held virtually, 1–3 December 2021. This issue is addressed in detail by the ISSA in a forthcoming report, Priorities for social security – The Americas 2021: Trends, challenges and solutions, to be launched at the event.
To extend coverage, the region has seen a number of recent important achievements. While some of these relate to improved service delivery, others relate to benefits. Unemployment benefits are increasingly recognized not only as a compensation system but also as a macroeconomic stabilization tool.
Pension systems have been the focus of many reforms. Some initiatives incentivize the affiliation of self-employed persons and domestic workers, while others yet have introduced a gender dimension in an attempt to address gender inequalities.
To improve effective coverage, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have implemented a “monotax” or similar mechanisms, simplifying tax and contribution collection for small contributors.
Improvements in administration seek to ensure well-functioning social security bodies capable of identifying and registering contributors and beneficiaries, collecting contributions, enforcing compliance, and delivering benefits services.
Limited knowledge about social security rights and responsibilities is a stubborn barrier to coverage extension. To improve knowledge, the region is a recognized leader in communication and education strategies on social security.
Keeping one’s eye on the ball
As the ISSA underlines, the success of social security coverage extension in the digital era will depend on the capability of social security administrations to exploit digital opportunities to implement innovative social policies while addressing new digitalization risks.