Remarks at World Social Security Summit

Excellencies,Distinguished participants,Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to take part as a panellist in the World Social Security Summit.

Today we will address access and ways to extend social protection.

Universal access to social security (or social protection) is a cornerstone of efforts to counter the rising tide of inequality and its negative social and economic impacts. Social security is also a critical instrument for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Nevertheless, large gaps in coverage and access remain.

Currently, 55 percent of the world’s population is not covered by any form of government-funded social protection. Moreover, at the current pace of progress in extending coverage, we will not reach SDG target 3.8 on achieving universal health coverage by 2030. Current gaps in coverage diminish the potential of social protection programmes to assist in reducing poverty, inequality and exclusion.

How can we ensure access to social protection for all? We consulted the international community, academia, practitioners and reviewed the literature and we consigned our findings in a Report. This critical question was the central focus of a 2018 report by the United Nations. Despite the rapid expansion of social protection programmes around the world, evidence presented in the report confirms that seven priority groups highlighted in the 2030 Agenda confront multiple barriers in gaining access to social protection - Agenda children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities —Today, I will highlight three policy prescriptions that can help to address the exclusion and marginalization that limit access to social protection for large segments of the population. To ensure that no one is left behind, social protection systems should be available and accessible to all, and they should provide adequate support to guarantee income security.

Availability of a well-designed system is the first necessary condition for addressing exclusion through social protection. A social protection system should meet different needs over the life course. For example, special attention to the situation of older workers in the informal economy is needed, since they generally do not have access to social protection programs, including pensions, even after a lifetime of work. This is especially true for workers in rural areas and for women.

To be truly inclusive, social protection systems must offer a minimum set of benefits, financed through taxes. Purely contributory schemes tend to exclude a portion of the population. Yet contributory programmes often enjoy stronger political support, because the benefits are perceived as having been earned.

In recent years, many countries have made great strides toward greater availability of social protection, mainly through the implementation of social assistance schemes. While some of these schemes have helped to reduce poverty and to reach excluded populations, many are small-scale and temporary. Temporary programmes can help to address short-term needs, but they leave people vulnerable to future shocks.

For success in both the long and the short run, social protection systems require strong political commitment as well as coherent and stable legal and institutional frameworks. A strong institutional framework helps to secure the necessary political and fiscal support for social protection schemes. Examples of successful frameworks include unemployment benefits, family and child support, maternity leave, and disability and survivor benefits, among others. The absence of such frameworks puts the fiscal sustainability, and thus the availability, of social protection programmes at risk.

The second condition for an inclusive social protection system is accessibility. Beyond just being available, social protection should also be accessible to all without discrimination. There are, however, many barriers that limit access. Here, I would like to highlight three such barriers: inadequate targeting; complex registration and payment procedures; and lack of information.

1. Special measures that target certain population groups may be necessary – though perhaps only temporarily – to overcome challenges faced by individuals in those groups. However, successful targeting requires strong administrative capacities, which may be lacking in some countries. Targeted measures should complement, rather than replace, universal social protection schemes.

2. Registration procedures and the means of delivering social protection payments can affect access as well. Some programmes, for instance, require beneficiaries to provide detailed personal information and supporting documentation, such as identity cards, birth-registration or marriage certificates, which members of the targeted groups may lack.

Persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, migrants and members of other disadvantaged or vulnerable groups can benefit from simple, streamlined registration systems. Long distances to registration sites and payment locations, as well as long lines and inadequate infrastructure, create additional barriers to access, especially for persons with disabilities and for women with children and older persons.

Schemes requiring proof of legal identity can motivate efforts to strengthen civil registration systems and to ensure the inclusion of persons who are often “invisible” in the official statistics produced by government agencies.

3. Finally, lack of information is often a major obstacle to accessing social protection. Many people do not benefit from social protection programmes because they are unaware that such programmes exist or that they would be eligible to receive benefits. They may not understand how the application process works, what compliance entails or how to access benefits. Tailoring public information campaigns to the needs of potential applicants is very important.

For example, international migrants – or foreign-born persons residing in a country – are at risk of being unaware of available social protection benefits or how to access them. Yet available data on migration policies for 111 countries indicate that 84 per cent of Governments have measures to provide non-nationals equal access to social security programmes, including contributory and non-contributory pension benefits and basic social assistance.

Migrant eligibility for social protection may vary according to a person’s legal status in the country of residence. Twenty-two per cent of Governments provide access to social security for non-nationals regardless of their migration status, while 62 per cent provide such benefits only to those who are legally authorized to be in the country. There is room for expanding it.

The third necessary condition for an inclusive social protection system is adequacy. Often, the amount of benefits that people receive is not enough to guarantee an adequate standard of living and access to health care. ILO Recommendation No. 202 establishes that due consideration should be given to the principle that “basic income security should allow life in dignity” and should be sufficient to provide access to “a set of necessary goods and services”.

Because different population groups have different needs, the design of social security programmes should take into account the particular needs of certain groups. For example, a key issue affecting international migrants is transnational portability. With rising numbers of migrants in the global workforce, the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits across national boundaries is critical for achieving adequate social protection both for migrants and for those who return to their countries of origin.

In addition, social protection systems work best when people have access to high-quality education and health-care services; and when the systems are complemented by other social policies, for example, policies that promote participation in the labour market or develop skills that are in demand. In short, the adequacy of social protection schemes can be reinforced by offering complementary programmes that promote the development of individual capacities, or human capital.


In conclusion, universal access to basic social protection, together with access to social services and other complimentary policy measures, can break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and promote inclusion. Social protection is critical for ensuring that no one is left behind, making it a crucial policy tool for achieving a broad range of Sustainable Development Goals and targets.

Investing in social protection systems and ensuring access for all, without regard to a person’s sex, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographic location and other personal characteristics, will help to foster opportunities and facilitate access to resources, while at the same time as giving voice to underprivileged groups and promoting respect for the fundamental rights of all persons.

Thank you.
File date: 
Friday, October 18, 2019
Maria Francesca Spatolisano