The COVID-19 crisis has exposed devastating gaps in social protection coverage in developing countries, and recovery will only be sustained and future crises prevented if they can transform their ad hoc crisis response measures into comprehensive social protection systems, according to new analysis from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Two briefing papers released by the ILO warn that the current gaps in social protection could compromise recovery plans, expose millions to poverty, and affect global readiness to cope with similar crises in future.
The papers take a detailed look at the role of social protection measures in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak in developing countries, including the provision of sickness benefits during the crisis.
The brief on Social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries , describes social protection as, “an indispensable mechanism for delivering support to individuals during the crisis”. It examines the response measures some countries have introduced, including removing financial barriers to quality health care, enhancing income security, reaching out to workers in the informal economy, protecting incomes and jobs, and improving the delivery of social protection, employment and other interventions.
“While the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor, its effects are highly uneven”, the brief says, adding that the ability to access affordable, quality, healthcare has become “a matter of life and death”.
The brief also warns policymakers to avoid a singular focus on COVID-19 because this could reduce the availability of health systems to respond to “other conditions that kill people every day”. It cites the example of how, during the Ebola epidemic, a focus on this virus exacerbated mortality from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
According to the ILO, 55 per cent of the world’s population – as many as four billion people – are not covered by social insurance or social assistance. Globally, only 20 per cent of unemployed people are covered by unemployment benefits, and in some regions the coverage is much lower.