Broadening social protection coverage

Sufficient resources must be allocated and regional cooperation exploited to the full. To make social protection systems effective requires a significant but affordable increase of public spending, between 2 and 8 percent of GDP, depending on the size of the benefits and the country in question. 

Halving poverty is within reach for many countries with a combination of social protection schemes

Cost of basic social protection package to halve poverty at national poverty line (percentage of GDP)

Source: ESCAP elaboration using Social Protection Simulator available online at Global average public social protection expenditure is from ILO (2022) World Social Protection Database.

Existing expenditures must be reprioritized and revenues increased by broadening the tax base, introducing progressive taxation and extending social insurance. This requires embedding universal social protection into national development agendas to garner political support. The Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific can guide action through its shared strategy for broadening social protection coverage. 

Inclusive social protection schemes must be based on a life cycle approach. To include all workers, governments need to integrate contributory and non-contributory schemes in a coherent and complementary manner and provide individual entitlements along the life cycle. Schemes must provide adequate social protection to women in the workforce by recognizing and rewarding unpaid care work. But schemes also need to be adapted for an ageing population so that older persons who want to work can remain in employment.

A life cycle approach to social protection

Note: In childhood, consequences of poverty and deprivation can lead to nutritional and health deficiencies that impact educational outcomes and longer-term cognitive and physical development. This undermines employment prospects in adulthood. During working age, unemployment often pushes families into poverty. Falling sick often means working while being ill and contagious. Without affordable health care, people do not seek treatment or wait until it may be too late. Lack of protection during pregnancy and childbirth risks lives, but also women’s livelihoods and chances to work. A work injury can further lead to disability or loss of a breadwinner and thus cause a quick descent into poverty for an entire family. In the absence of an enabling and accessible environment, a disability can all too often mean exclusion from the labour market and less resilience to poverty. Without a pension, older persons are forced to continue working or depend on other family members for their survival. Leaving old-age support to families alone is becoming increasingly unsustainable given the region’s unprecedented trends of population ageing.

Adaptive systems that leverage emerging digital technologies are the future of fair and inclusive social protection schemes. New technology can facilitate the identification and registration to social protection programmes and reduce the risks of fraud and duplication. Adaptive social protection schemes can build resilience of populations in vulnerable situations by ensuring access to basic goods and services in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.