Social deficit hinders Asia’s resistance to covid

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Social protection systems in most Asian countries do not reach a large part of the population and their coverage, even for workers exposed to occupational injuries, is very poor. Photo: F. Latief / ILO

BANGKOK, 16 oct 2020 (IPS) – Almost half of the population of Asia and the Pacific does not have any social protection coverage and that lack weighs when facing the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, said a report by two United Nations agencies released this Friday 16.

The study was prepared by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (Cespap) and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Despite its rapid economic rise in recent decades, few countries in that part of the world inhabited by more than 4.6 billion people have social protection systems with relatively broad coverage, according to the report.

Most have weak, flawed social protection systems with relatively limited scope and scale, it was noted.

“Comprehensive social protection is the foundation for healthy societies and dynamic economies. The covid-19 pandemic has clearly revealed this imperative, demonstrating the stabilizing effect of well-functioning social protection systems and how their absence exacerbates inequalities and poverty ”: Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

Less than half of the region’s population, 46 percent, is under at least one social protection scheme, and if China is excluded the figure drops to a third, 34 percent.

Old age is the only contingency in which the majority of the population is covered (72 percent, although 59 percent without China), while coverage of children, unemployment, work-related injuries and serious disability are below of a third.

Coverage is slightly higher, 46 percent, in maternity benefits (36 percent without China), and only one in five vulnerable people, those who do not contribute to or benefit from contributory schemes, are receiving some form of benefit non-contributory.

There are also subregional differences, as in North Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and the Pacific some social coverage reaches between 73 and 78 percent of the population, but only 33 percent in Southeast Asia and 24 percent in South Asia.

“Comprehensive social protection is the foundation for healthy societies and dynamic economies. The covid-19 pandemic has clearly revealed this imperative, demonstrating the stabilizing effect that social protection systems have, ”said Cespap’s executive secretary, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

The absence of well-functioning protection systems “aggravates inequalities and poverty,” the official stressed.

He argued that “effective social protection for the entire population of our region is already part of our focus, when we promote combining short-term emergency aid with long-term strategies to build better after the pandemic.”

So far, most anti-poverty programs have not reached the poorest families, and the pandemic threatens to reverse the progress made in eradicating poverty for nearly a decade, according to the report.

In 2020 alone, the World Bank estimates predicted that 35 million people in Asia-Pacific could be lifted out of poverty, of which 25 million in China, but the trend has been reversed under the impact of the covid.

The report recalls that many countries also face high levels of inequality, exacerbated by the pandemic, and aging populations, migration, urbanization, natural disasters and climate change, as well as technological advances, are compounding these challenges.

A factor that sustains this social gap, according to Cespap and ILO, is insufficient investment in protection, less than two percent of gross product in many countries, if health is excluded, while the world average is 11 percent.

Another factor is the high prevalence of informal employment in the region, which accounts for about 70 percent of the entire workforce.

“There is a clear need to increase public spending on social protection systems if we want to avoid stagnation in the social and economic progress achieved in the region in recent decades,” said Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO Director for Asia and the Pacific.


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