Over half of all people in the world have no social protections, the United Nations said Wednesday, even after the pandemic spurred countries to offer more services to their populations.
In a report on the state of social protection globally, the UN’s International Labour Organization said that 4.1 billion people were living without any social safety net of any kind.
Social protection includes access to health care and income security measures related especially to old age, unemployment, sickness, disability, work injury, maternity or the loss of the main breadwinner in a family, as well as extra support for families with children.
In 2020, only 46.9 percent of the global population benefitted from at least one such protection, according to the report — ILOs first on the subject since 2017.
That low rate came even as access to healthcare, sickness and unemployment benefits have more than ever proved their relevance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This crisis has revealed the absolutely crucial role that social protection has played in national responses around the world,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters.
“Without the massive and rapid expansion of social protection during the Covid-19 crisis, its impact would certainly have been very much worse than it actually has been.”
– ‘Glimmers of optimism’ –
Ryder said this renewed appreciation for social protections had offered “glimmers of optimism amid the devastation wrought by the pandemic.”
He urged countries to centre their recovery efforts around boosting social protections.
“Countries are at a crossroads,” he said in a statement, stressing that “this is a pivotal moment to harness the pandemic response to build a new generation of rights-based social protection systems.”
But while the pandemic has provided an opportunity for improving social protections, it also laid bare the glaring disparities between the protections currently on offer in different parts of the world.
Ryder said the Covid crisis had acted “as an X-ray for global society,” revealing “large gaps in the coverage, in the adequacy and in the comprehensiveness of social protection.”
Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with a full 84 percent of people covered by at least one social protection, followed by the Americas, at 64.3 percent, according to the ILO.
Some 44 percent of people living in the Asia-Pacific region and 40 percent of people in Arab states meanwhile enjoy at least one social protection, while in Africa only 17.4 percent of people do.
Countries on average spend 12.8 percent of their gross domestic product on social protections, excluding health care, but such spending also varies dramatically.
While wealthy nations dish out 16.4 percent of their GDP for such protections, low-income countries spend just 1.1 percent, the report found.
And the pandemic could easily worsen the disparities.
The ILO report pointed out that the surging need for healthcare services and income security measures during the pandemic has sent the cost of guaranteeing basic social protection services through the roof for many crisis-hit economies.
To guarantee at least a basic level of social security, upper-middle-income countries could expect to invest an additional $750.8 billion each year, equivalent to 3.1 percent of their GDP, the report found.
Low-income countries would meanwhile need to invest another $77.9 billion — equivalent to 15.9 percent of their GDP.