A new report by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) on ‘Social security for the digital age’ addresses major trends in how social security is influenced by, and makes use of, new digital technologies. The report was produced for the World Social Security Forum, October 2019.
Digital technologies now permeate all aspects of human activities: the way we communicate, move around, purchase goods, travel and seek jobs. The impact of social media, mobile phones, artificial intelligence, data analytics and the Internet of Things on modern society and social security has become immeasurable and will increase in the years to come. “The digital economy opens exciting new opportunities to improve people’s lives. While there are challenges, digital technologies provide us with new tools to face the future provided we use them wisely”, says Dominique La Salle, Director for Social Security Development at the ISSA.
Digital Technologies and Social Security: What opportunities and challenges?
Digital technologies have proven their huge potential in a wide range of contexts linked to social security, including in health care, safety at work, contribution collection and exchange of data, just to name a few. They facilitate the timely assistance to people in need, such as elderly people with restricted mobility or people with disabilities, and improve service quality and the integrity of business processes while decreasing operational costs.
As a key component of this “digital revolution”, digital platforms, are growing at a rapid pace thanks to their scalability, flexibility and adaptability. On the one hand, digital platforms generate new demands and new opportunities by instantly matching supply and demand at a low cost; on the other hand, they are reshaping the labour market by challenging the traditional forms of work and fragmenting the labour force. In this scenario, life-long learning and innovative training programmes have become indispensable to avoid massive job displacement possibly caused by automation and robotization, as well as to equip present and future generations of workers with the right skills. Remarkably, many countries and institutions are already stepping up to address this need.
Eventually, if data is the lifeblood of the digital economy, it is indisputable that data is the lifeblood of social security. Through their operations, social security institutions amass a huge quantity of personal data from contributors and beneficiaries in order to provide value-added services, improve programme design and even predict the benefits one may claim in the future. Consequently, they have to make sure that this added convenience is weighed against the risk of misuse of the data gathered. In that balance, it is essential that the advantage to the individual clearly outweigh the risk.
With a view of providing an effective and timely response to these challenges, social security institutions need to adapt to better meet the new needs and mitigate two major risks of increasing coverage gaps and the erosion of the funding base. In this regard, the ISSA has identified six priority areas of action:
- Legal certainty and harmonization of platform workers’ employment status
- Ensuring the sustainable financing of social security systems
- Data protection
- People-centric coordination
- Human capital development in a long-term perspective