KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 30): Fewer than half the population of Asia and the Pacific have access to any social protection benefits, and public spending on social protection in the region is significantly below the global average, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The ILO’s “World Social Protection Report 2020–22: Regional companion report for Asia and the Pacific” released on Tuesday (Aug 30) found that only 44.1% of the region’s population have access to at least one social protection benefit.
Looking at some specific benefits, only 45.9% of new mothers received paid maternity leave, and only 14% of unemployed workers received unemployment benefits.
The ILO said spending on social protection in the region has averaged 7.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) over the past two years, with half of countries spending 2.6% or less.
It said this is significantly below the global average of 12.9%.
The organisation said contributory social protection schemes are typically limited to those working in the formal sector, while non-contributory schemes usually target a small group of the poorest in a society.
It said this means that a large and important group of workers is left unprotected.
The ILO said this so-called “missing middle” includes many women, migrant workers, the self-employed, workers in micro and small enterprises, domestic workers, home-based workers and contributing family workers.
The ILO said that besides these significant coverage gaps, a second problem is that what coverage there is is often too low to provide adequate protection, because of the relatively low level of funding and investment in social protection schemes.
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific deputy regional director Panudda Boonpala said the region stands at a crossroad.
“It faces challenges in terms of adequacy of benefits and system sustainability coupled with low public expenditure and the persistence of non-standard forms of work.
“The Covid-19 crisis has made clear that, for most countries in the region, an urgent paradigm shift is required. The need for social protection has never been so evident,” said Boonpala.
Meanwhile, ILO senior technical specialist, social Protection Nuno Meira Simoes da Cunha said social protection in the region needs to respond not only to the Covid-19 pandemic, but to other major trends, including population ageing, migration, urbanisation, technological progress, disasters and climate change.
The report called on countries in the region to choose between different development paths.
One is the “high-road” approach, with a significant new role for social protection, aiming to be more inclusive and leaving no one behind, while supporting greater growth, driven by domestic demand, and contributing to further development of human capabilities.
The other option is to focus on fiscal consolidation and pursue a “low-road” approach that keeps countries trapped in a “low cost – low human development” growth pattern.