The COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity and a challenge for social security in Africa
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has propelled forward an important number of developments in social security programmes and their administration. In this regard, Africa is following international trends. This is an important key finding from recent research conducted by the International Social Security Association (ISSA).
In a new study, Social security responses to the COVID-19 pandemic – Africa, the ISSA draws attention to the important responses implemented by social security organizations to maintain business continuity, service delivery as well as to respond to the uncertainty and new social protection challenges brought by the pandemic.
The ISSA study feeds into a forthcoming report, Priorities for social security – Africa 2021: Trends, challenges and solutions, to be launched at the Virtual Social Security Forum for Africa, to be held virtually, 5–7 October 2021. As reported by the ISSA, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only necessitated emergency responses but also heightened demand for existing benefits and services.
Across Africa, new and existing social assistance measures represent the most common response. Other responses address the pandemic’s public health and health-care challenges, protect people and livelihoods as well as empower employers in a bid to secure jobs and sustain the economy. In view of the heightened demands, the perennial questions concerning the adequacy, capability and stability of social protection and health-care systems across Africa are once more squarely on the table.
Levels of social protection coverage are typically low in many African countries. Extending adequate and sustainable social protection continues to face a number of important challenges and constraints. Adding to these, the public health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the negative socioeconomic impacts of restrictive emergency measures imposed by national authorities are significant. A reversal in the progress made in Africa towards achieving Universal Social Protection, in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda, is a very real risk.
Challenges and opportunities
Positively, the pandemic has prompted unprecedented levels of political commitment to social protection in Africa. Ongoing efforts to improve the delivery of benefits and services has created solid ground on which to anchor the further innovative adaptation of social security administration and from which emergency responses have been rapidly rolled-out.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing financial constraints, among others, under which many African social protection systems operate. The pandemic has occasioned an increase in expenditure on risk events covered by social security programmes but also imposed fiscal strains.
But there is an upside.
With the wider objective of relaunching national economies, the African social protection success stories spotlighted by the ISSA offer a basis for future optimism. We know that effective access to adequate social protection plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable development, social cohesion and socioeconomic resilience. And it should come as no surprise that countries with well-developed health care and social protection systems have been more resilient to the pandemic.
Because of the pandemic, we see a new dynamic in social security administration, leading to the adoption and adaptation of online and digital solutions to guarantee the continuity of services.
We can confidently say that in Africa this has accelerated the modernization of social security administration.