The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for well-functioning social protection systems in the region as never before. A new UN report released today reveals that despite their rapid socioeconomic ascent, most countries in the Asia-Pacific region have weak social protection systems riddled with gaps.
About half of the region’s population has no social protection coverage, according to the publication The Protection We Want: Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific, jointly produced by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Only a handful of countries have comprehensive social protection systems with relatively broad coverage.
“Comprehensive social protection creates the foundation for healthy societies and vibrant economies. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this imperative into sharp focus, by demonstrating the stabilizing effect well-functioning social protection systems have and how their absence exacerbates inequality and poverty,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.
She added, “Delivering effective social protection to all people across our region is already shaping our approach, as we advocate combining short-term relief with longer-term strategies to build back better in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
The scope and scale of existing programs is still limited. Most poverty-targeted schemes are failing to reach the poorest families and the pandemic risks further reversing progress to eradicate poverty by almost a decade. Many countries are also facing high levels of inequality, both in outcomes and opportunities, which the pandemic has exacerbated. Population ageing, migration, urbanization, natural disasters and climate change, as well as technological advancements are further compounding these challenges.
The report identifies significant underinvestment as one of the main factors for the huge coverage gap. Excluding health, many countries in the region spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on social protection. This low level of investment in people stands in stark contrast to the global average of 11 per cent. Another key reason is the high prevalence of informal employment in the region, representing close to 70 per cent of all workers.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the precarious situation of many working women and men and especially those in the informal economy. There is a clear need for further investment in public social protection systems if we are to avoid the stagnation of social and economic progress made across the region in recent decades,” said Ms Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, Regional Director ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
Expanding social protection would have an immediate impact on reducing poverty, inequality and purchasing power disparities. For example, the proportion of households living in poverty would fall by up to 18 percentage points if governments were to offer basic child benefits, disability benefits and old-age pensions.
While the required investment of two to six per cent of GDP is significant, the report demonstrates that it is within the grasp of most countries. The report recommends governments to reprioritize existing resources, boost public revenues, tap into new technologies and embed social protection into national development strategies, underpinned by social dialogue.
The report was launched on the sidelines of the fifth Regional Conversation Series on Building Back Better. The high-level dialogue on “Social Protection: A Right for All, or A Privilege for a Few?” featured eminent personalities from across the region including Guy Ryder, ILO Director General; Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Fiji; Haiyani Rumondang, Director General for Industrial Relations and Worker’s Social Security, Ministry of Manpower; Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime Minister, Pakistan; Kung Phoak, Deputy Secretary-General for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community; Sarah Cook, Director, Institute for Global Development, University of New South Wales; and Michael Cichon, Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Governance at UNU, Maastricht.
Read the full report: http://bit.ly/APSocialOutlook2020
Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.
Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”
Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.
Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:
Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.
It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.
Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.
Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.
Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19
Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.
The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.
The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.
The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.
After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.
|The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.|
A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.
Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery
Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.
In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs.
This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago.
This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts.
The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing.
Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.
This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent.
In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent.
Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible.
In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.
And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes.
To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency.
It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO.
Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men.
The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection.
Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step.
Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately.
Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO.
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