World Social Protection Report 2020-22

High-Level Panel on Social Protection: ILO Director-General’s opening remarks

Statement | 02 September 2021
Thanks, and firstly my greetings to all my friends and fellow panellists.

Three key messages, to list them very quickly:

The first has to do with the experience of the COVID-19 period. If it has done one thing, it has exposed in the starkest and sometimes very brutal way just how important social protection is as a social policy issue.

It is almost as if we could divide the world up in the context of the pandemic between those who did have access to social protection – and so could have health care assured, maybe their jobs and incomes safeguarded, their enterprises stabilized – and those who did not have all of that. It makes an extraordinary difference to the experience of crisis.

During the pandemic we saw a rush to ad hoc, emergency, temporary social protection measures; that brings me to the second message. All of those ad hoc measures were necessary because the pre-existing status quo was so inadequate.

We saw the percentage figures in the opening video – we weren’t doing as well in the provision of social protection as we should have been. Yes, there were some areas of advance but certainly nothing that would take us anywhere near where we need to get at the speed we need to get there.

It is very clear in the World Social Protection Report. The statistics are there; the figures speak for themselves. We have to reinforce our social protection policies. We have to make a particular effort to extend social protection to all types of employment – in an increasingly diversified labour market, we have to reach out particularly to those we know are particularly ill-served by existing arrangements. I think of women, of migrant workers, of informal economy workers. And in a slightly different optic I think of gig workers, the latest addition to the panoply of work forms.

And the third, and for me the key message: we have some choices to make now, in the light of the COVID-19 experience and of the evident inadequacies of what existed pre-pandemic. As the pressure comes on to relax or remove the emergency ad hoc measures, we can either fall back into the pre-existing status quo with all of its inadequacies and say sorry, we can’t do better than that – our resources are not there, our political will is not there; people are going to have to get by pretty much in the same way pretty much as they always did. We call this the ‘low road’ on social protection.

Or alternatively we can take the ‘high road’. That means investing – and yes, there is a major investment effort required here – in a true push towards universal social protection, which is precisely what the world is already committed to in the 2030 Agenda, in Target 1.3 of the SDGs, and making that a reality.

That necessarily means an effort at the national level to establishing the right type of national policy priorities and capacities and resource inputs.

And then an effort of international solidarity. One of the figures that stands out for me in the report is the financing gap that would allow us if filled to provide minimum social protections for the low-income countries, which stands at $79 billion annually. In the light of what has been spent in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, that does not seem beyond our reach. Thanks.